In one of the most authentic moments of Lady Bird, Christine a.k.a ‘Lady Bird’ (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother (Laurie Metcalf) are crying while listening to a John Steinback audiobook in a car. Within seconds their conversation turn towards college admissions they start bickering. That is the template of most mother-daughter scenes in the film. The almost bipolar nature of a mother’s interaction with her child.
One moment the mother is criticising her daughter for ‘dragging her feet’ and in the very next they’re both drooling over a dress. Through the running time of the film, director Greta Gerwig takes us into confidence as she dissects the relationship that shape our personalities. In the process, she also gives enough breathing space to both her protagonists for us to see them as more than just the “mother” and the “daughter”. We get to know them as people.
There is good reason why Greta Gerwig’s film is one of the best-reviewed films from last year. Similar ‘coming-of-age movies’ usually focus on a single person’s arc but in the case of Lady Bird there is not one but two protagonists. The first shot of them sleeping while facing each other, is an indicator that even though the film might be named after only one of them, they are both in fact the protagonists.
Is ‘Lady Bird’ a brat? Not exactly. Is her mother large-hearted, tough and the nagging type all at the same time? Yes, and there are different scenes to support each of those characteristics.
Like when she’s hanging out with her boyfriend, she tells him how her mother is always angry at her and how it doesn’t matter if she reaches home late because she’s still going to be angry. She defends her mother when someone suggests she’s ‘scary’ even though she finds her infuriating through most of their conversations. When ‘Lady Bird’ talks to her Dad, he tells her how the two of them have strong personalities and that’s what triggers these ‘clashes’. Both these characters can be agonising, cold, warm and tender all within a few moments of each other and even as they fight each other, they long for each other’s love and respect.
Lady Bird is also a movie about finding one’s way back home. While she goes through her senior year, ‘Lady Bird’ cannot wait to get out to the East coast ‘where the culture is… where the writers live in the woods.’ And yet it is only in college, she fondly recollects the experience of driving through those familiar roads for the first time.
She cannot help but yawn through the church service in her school with one eye always on the clock. And yet when she makes her way to a church in New York, she’s overwhelmed by the many memories that are attached to that sound of the organ and the words of the preacher. She walks out of that place and calls her mother, introducing herself as Christine (Lady Bird’s real name) for the very first time in the film.
In spite of all the angst, confusion and the quarrelling, she’s found appreciation for everything her mother has done. And one way to show this appreciation, is to embrace the name she had chosen.