Plot is discussed ahead. read at your own risk.
Much can be said about many recent coming-of-age movies―some can be full of angst, the undying tale of first love, teenage pregnancy, and personal study of human body which can include sex and drug addiction. But only few have been brave enough (and successful, for that matter, grossing 75.7 million USD both local and international box office) to explore the territory of a child’s own discovery of adulthood in such a complex manner, without losing its essence that whoever strove in reaching their personal dreams can relate to.
The movie opens with a scene inside Marion’s (Laurie Metcalf) car while she and her daughter Christine (performed by Saoirse Ronan) “Lady Bird” (a name given to her by her, said she upon introducing herself to the audition for their high school theater play) are listening to a cassette tape of an audio book. This light-hearted mother and daughter scene escalated quickly when Lady Bird jumps out of the moving car, as Marion contradicted her desires in applying to universities in New York where, according to her, “writers live in the woods” and “where the culture is”. That first scene sets the entire mood of the film, giving emphasis on the tension between Lady Bird and her mother, the heroine’s determination to free herself from a secluded town like hers in Sacramento, California, and wanting to live a life of her own.
Teen rebellion from their parents, if not frowned upon at all, is something which can be observed on a daily basis within the confines of a normal family setup. There are shouting, blaming, and continuous opposing sides between teens and parents. However, what is interesting―and what sets this movie apart from other young adult film―is how the relationship of Lady Bird and Marion was put under a microscope, allowing us spectators have a closer and intricate look on the two contrasting characters where on one scene they can fight like each other’s worst enemies―never having second thoughts to turn against one another―and at the same time can become each other’s confidante and best friend in a matter of less than a second. This was best illustrated when Lady Bird and her mother were having an argument about her decision to stay over her boyfriend’s grandmother house for Thanksgiving, as they scan through racks of dresses at a thrift shop. The heated conversation suddenly stopped when Marion lifts a dress showing it to her daughter, in which Lady Bird returned with an exhilarated exclamation.
These two characters may be caught fighting and contrasting each other almost all the time, but in truth both of them are faces of a strong-willed woman, driven by each of their own way of loving each other―in this case for Marion, her strict and straightforward attitude in raising her daughter, while it weighs to be more of a self-centered goal for Lady Bird on the surface.
One exchange of conversation between these two which left me with a heavy impression is the scene where Lady Bird was trying on some dresses for the upcoming prom. Her mother was outside the fitting room holding a bunch of other dresses for her daughter. After a series of arguments regarding Lady Bird’s recent unfavorable behavior, she comes out of the fitting room asking Marion whether she likes her or not. “I just want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be,” answered her mother. Lady Bird asks again, “what if this is the best version?”, to which her mother had no reply to.
We can always point fingers to the direction of someone who is responsible for a child’s certain behavior―that’s the easy job. But to put the blame on one’s self? That may require a lot of courage and acceptance that nobody is ever close to perfection, and this is something which parents are very accustomed in to thinking about themselves when it comes to matters of raising their children. A child is a mere reflection of a parent―an image they see every day upon looking in the mirror. And so it is a hard-faced truth when one blatantly tells their parents that they may have fallen short from expectations, and that this is already the best they can be. Hence, Marion’s lost for words when confronted by her daughter’s rhetoric question.
Lady Bird―with her strong and upfront response to most of the situations she was put under―may come off arrogant and selfish. But in truth, she is a daughter that has genuine intentions made complicated because she doesn’t exactly know how to express the love and appreciation for her parents―resulting to a general conflicted relationship with the family―and a young woman trying to map herself through a world unknown to her that both excites and frightens her. All of these inhibitions are contained between a body of a child, and a mind and heart of a woman determined to achieve her long-term goals in life no matter what it takes―even if it hurts her and her family in the process.
Now, the onset of this evaluation may come off as antagonizing the lead role’s character. The truth is, what’s heart-warming in this movie is Christine’s redeeming value at the end―which didn’t seem to be so surprising at all since at the very core of her character is a young woman not only capable of standing on her own two feet, but also an ordinary person just like all of us who knows how to find her way back home.
By the latter part of the film at prom night, Lady Bird reunited with her best friend, Julie, which she formerly ditched to join in with the cool kids of their catholic school. The two danced and spent the whole night ‘til the wee hours, catching up and realizing that they will no longer be together as often when they go to college. This was soon followed by scenes showing Lady Bird cleaning up and repainting her room, and packing up stuff to go with her to New York, shortly after her mother found out about her being short listed in one of the universities in the east coast. At the end of the film, though, much room is left for the audience’s own interpretation. Lady Bird was seen attending a Sunday mass the morning after a hard-drunk night and later leaving a voicemail to her mother, introducing herself as “Christine, that’s the name you gave me… it’s a good one”, and saying how much she loves her and appreciates even the simplest things like driving along the streets of their hometown.
Lady Bird, put into little words, doesn’t try hard at making it accurate, relatable and touching―for it already is a masterpiece with its intentions alone, directorial input, and actors’ profound performance.
Originally published on October 3, 2018.