“Lady Bird.” An A24 bildungsroman of theatrics, aspirations and mommy issues. Greta Gerwig’s 2017 award-winning masterpiece turns five years old this November, and it remains steadfastly beloved by many, myself included.
Christine “Lady Bird ” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) lives in Sacramento with her unemployed father, overworked mother, and her brother and his eccentric girlfriend. Lady Bird attends a Catholic high school, with dreams of going to college on the East Coast and expanding her cultural horizons. She speaks matter-of-factly and she is proud of her self-given name.
So what makes this film so very baller, so very anarchist? These descriptors come from the lips of one Timothée Chalamet as he portrays Kyle, an angsty, rebellious pick-me teenager to which Lady Bird loses her virginity. Their sex scene is uniquely non-Hollywood; an empty awkwardness hangs in the air, particularly after their affair has finished and Lady Bird comes to find out that Kyle was not a virgin as he had told her. There is something beautiful and real about this anticlimactic encounter between two high schoolers, contrasting with the stereotypically steamy cinema we are accustomed to.
The humorously horrific way Kyle treats Lady Bird, from honking in the car to pick her up for prom to general gaslighting and condescension, seals the strength of his character’s writing. Kyle personifies the hyper-woke, unimpressed, band member teenage dirtbag one can’t help but laugh at. The contrast between Kyle and Lady Bird’s first boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges) exemplifies the arc of questions and desperation Lady Bird undertakes throughout the film.
This period is equally punctuated by the abysmal friendship she seeks with the cool-rich-popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush), resulting in the abandonment of her loyal companion Julie (Beanie Feldstein). After trying to maintain a rich, pretentious facade with her new ensemble, ironically ditching the ensemble role she was given in the school play, Lady Bird comes to her senses on prom night and asks Kyle to drop her off at Julie’s. The two girls eat cheese and go to the prom.
The bittersweet vignettes throughout the film offer such an intimately raw glimpse at humanity, or, more specifically, the teenage-girl experience. I myself had just quit theater in high school upon this film’s release. I always laugh tenderly at the shots of the school play cast members belting out their biggest number on a late-night car ride, or causing a ruckus in an IHOP or a Denny’s after a performance.
Additionally, as someone who grew up in the church, the scene in which Lady Bird and Julie snack on communion wafers while discussing less-than-holy topics brings forth more of my fond laughter. Lady Bird writes the names of her love interests on the wall above her bed and subsequently crosses them out as they are eliminated. Her favorite activity with her best friend is walking along the streets of beautiful, wealthy neighborhoods and imagining living in those houses. Similarly, Lady Bird’s favorite Sunday outing with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is touring open houses and picturing spending her life in the sunlight of those commodious homes.
The simplicity and sanctity of each of these moments never fail to make me smile or weep. My tears flow the heaviest at the end of the film when Mrs. McPherson misses her airport goodbye as Lady Bird flies across the country to college. Here I am, a senior in college now, on the precipice of another big change; I continue to resonate just as much with Lady Bird today as I did at age 16 auditioning for “Big Fish.” Change is terrifying, family is a beautiful roller coaster, boys are confusing and friendship is paramount. Thank you, Lady Bird, for reflecting so much of me in a piece I continue to go back to for solace, heartache and joy.
“Lady Bird” is available to stream on Hulu and Paramount+.
By Risa Bolash