About 10 minutes into Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, I thought, This is going to be my favorite movie, huh? I was being presumptuous, but I was right. Watching Lady Bird feels like being transported to Gerwig’s world, but it also feels like being in high school, and that is what is so special about this movie—it feels at once totally new and yet the emotions it recalls are completely familiar.
It is a coming of age story that honors the intensity and complexity of being a teenage girl whose dreams overwhelm her reality. Lady Bird, played by Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), is a force. She is confident and quick, which is all too rare in the sea of coming of age stories that make the self-doubt and pining of teenage girls the focus, when there is always so much more to see.
Lady Bird is a name that is given to her by her. She changed it from Christine. She is a high school senior at a Catholic school in Sacramento, California, who desperately dreams of going to college in New York, or any east coast liberal arts school, really. She thinks that’s where culture is, not Sacramento. Lady Bird isn’t a very good student, but she is strong in her convictions. She is trying her best to figure out how to get where she wants to go, exploring love, sex, heartbreak, friendship, musical theater, and confrontations of class and high school social circles as she comes into her own.
One of the most striking aspects of the movie is her relationship with her mother (Gerwig’s working title for the film was Mothers and Daughters). Their bond is mercurial—she and her mother love each other deeply and frustrate each other often. The film is poignantly candid about her family’s struggles with money, which charges and complicates her dreams and relationships. The sacrifices and love her hardworking mom and her infinitely kind, struggling dad put into making their family’s lives better is delicately revealed throughout the movie. It is a story of immense tenderness.
After my dad saw Lady Bird last week, I met him for coffee. He loved it. I knew he would. I keep thinking about something he said. “When you’re 63, it’s easy to forget how big everything felt when you were a teenager.” The largeness of feelings, past and present, is something to be remembered and cherished.
Lady Bird reminds you of what it is to be a teenager at its most dramatic and mundane moments. It is the writing, the crossing out, and the painting over of boys’ names on your bedroom wall. It is scream-sobbing “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band. It is figuring out you’re wasting your time with the cool kids because they don’t like “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band. It is boys lying to get what they want.
It is your mom asking if you’re tired because you’re dragging your feet at the thrift store. It is dancing with your best friend at prom. It is learning to drive. It is leaving home for college and feeling an overwhelming need to call your mom. It is realizing that you may in fact have an aching love for your hometown you spent so many years hating. It is messy, difficult, chaotic, and sweet, and it is vividly captured by this film, this story, and its emotional staying power.