Ah, Christine, what a difficult teen you are. Sorry, I mean “Lady Bird” – the name by which Saoirse Ronan’s character has been going by, ironically (to her mother’s intense irritation).
Why ironically? Because, true to its title, the narrative is predominantly about the family nest – including every aspect, every twig that has come to form it, and prepared the hatchling to fly.
Indeed, the movie explores the nature of relationships, between family members, high school friends, to even education and the self. Lady Bird falls in love with the school’s musical-theatre star Danny (Lucas Hedges), followed by cool Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), both of whom show themselves to be unsatisfactory in their own way. She has a best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein) who, despite her weight issues, is much better than her at maths and theatre. I say ‘despite’ because the movie explores the complicated nature of the high school social hierarchy; the richer you are, the shorter the skirts, the more you rebel against your teachers, the ‘cooler’ you become. Christine tries her hardest to make her way up the social ladder by changing the way others perceive her and making the classic mistakes everyone made in high school; yet she can’t help but feel baffled and jealous by the way in which Julie seems to outdo her in the things she is truly passionate about.
But the movie’s emotional core lies in the turbulent relationship between mother and daughter – from the start, it is made plain that this relationship will be paid attention above all others. On a more personal level, it reminded me of when I first discovered that parents have emotional lives beyond the one we share. Christine and Marion’s relationship explores the difficulty for teenagers to recognise the feelings of abandonment and worthlessness when the child grows up and leaves home for the first time, and the consequent build up of anger, frustration and competitiveness prior to the ‘big departure’. The movie goes even beyond this, showing how, in many ways Lady Bird has not appreciated, Marion has always been there, fretting over her daughter’s well-being and appearance, mending and make-doing with their economic class, embodying the martyr of thrift that Lady Bird so stubbornly refuses to inherit.
For a directional debut, Greta Gerwig does a fantastic job to transfer notions of sensitivity, alienation and coming of age from paper to screen. Peter Bradshaw effectively describes the movie as a “love letter, of sorts, to [Gerwig’s] hometown of Sacramento, California”; there is a sense of autobiographical details, including small details of similitude between Lady Bird and Gerwig’s lives, which leave the viewer to wonder which bits are taken straight from life, and which have been subtly altered for display. The details of coming of age and all the themes addressed are all in the twigs, showing Gerwig’s talent as her first solo feature, and leaving viewers to wonder what creative feats she will design for us next.