“Do you like me?”
“Of course, I love you.”
“But do you like me?”
This exchange between mother and daughter is one of the many scenes in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, that will connect with the audience on a personal level. It is a coming of age story tackled with prowess, showing hatred and love, missed opportunities and second chances. The film also feels very raw, hitting you with a tidal wave of memories and emotions by traveling along all genres from comedy, to drama, and romance. This semi-autobiographical film, and love letter to Sacramento, is an astonishing achievement.
Set over the senior year of high school, Gerwig moves the film along restlessly, in a way that’s reflective of the teenage mind. Scenes pass as quickly as they go, just as adolescence flies by. It hits all the relatable notes of self-discovery, realization, and the struggles that teenagers go through. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) embodies every teenage girl who struggles with identity, changing her look and her name. Gerwig creates a film that perfectly showcases determination to change who you are, for yourself or to fit in with the “cool kids,” experiencing intimacy for the first time, and the regret and heartbreak that follows because, naively, you expected it to be perfect like the romances you’ve seen on the screen, the realization that you don’t need to go to prom with a guy to have the best night of your life, the disappointment that you didn’t get accepted into the college you wanted, and the feeling of uncertainty that follows when planning your future. Gerwig captures all of this exceptionally as elements of Lady Bird’s story.
At the heart of the film, however, is the relationship between mother and daughter. Gerwig gives us back our memories of fighting words, leading up to weeks unspoken, and digging up buried regrets. We see the selfishness, rebellion, moments taken for granted, and the forgotten thank yous. In a scene where Lady Bird’s mother (played by the wonderful Laurie Metcalf) goes to hang up her prom dress in her room while she’s asleep, Gerwig is not only portraying events between mother and daughter that we can relate to and have seen, but she also shows the things mothers do for their daughters that are missed. Never has the tug of war mother-daughter relationship been so brutally honest on film.
A lot of Lady Bird‘s success is due to its casting. Ronan, Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, and Timothée Chalamet play their roles in Lady Bird’s growth impeccably. Hedges and Chalamet introduce Lady Bird to first love, intimacy, and heartbreak authentically and with a wealth of sentiment. There is more to Hedges’ role than Chalamet’s, and he takes advantage, proving his range as an actor. Gerwig uses the Sacramento setting almost like it’s one of the film’s many side characters. Lady Bird’s typical teenage desire to leave her hometown is a big theme of the film, but with the cinematographically gorgeous snapshots of the city, Gerwig paints a picture of familiarity, almost as a representation of any hometown, proving that, no matter how strong the desire to leave, home will always be home.
Lady Bird deserves to be celebrated. Not only because it’s a meaningful story that’s incredibly genuine, funny, and told in a beautiful and simplistic way, but because it’s one of the rare occasions in cinema where a film’s critical sequence that ties everything together is repeated by the audience:
Just like Lady Bird, we all call our mothers in the end.
(Featured Image: Lady Bird, A24)