When I was in high school, I had one of my few adolescent disagreements with my parents over where I was going to go to college. I knew that I was going to end up in state — there was no way I was going to be able to afford to go to an out of state institution, but I was still applying to these schools in places that sounded incredibly rad but that I had no shot of going to. Sarah Lawrence, Stanford, Oberlin, NYU. I remember jokingly suggesting that my parents divorce so I could get better scholarships.
I was never as rebellious as Lady Bird, but I wanted to be, in the way that you wish that you were really rebellious but actually just got good grades and were on academic team and went to leadership camps because they were good for college applications. The kind of person where people stop talking about smoking weed on weekends or teenage sex when you enter the room, because you might tattle. I was never as angry as Lady Bird, puberty rolling past me like a forgotten summer where I read instead of being mad and where most people forgot that I existed.
All of this aside, Lady Bird is great.
I’ve been having issues lately with movies where they all feel like they’re written by men (because they are) and where they try to talk about motherhood but end up killing the mother (mother!, Blade Runner 2049) or where they seem incapable of creating a woman’s journey without centering it around her male partners (The Villainess). In this, Lady Bird is different.
Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), the self-named titular protagonist, is an asshole. It’s kind of brilliant how much of an asshole she actually is, because it’s that self-same level of assholishness that you recognize from your own youth. “We are afraid we will never escape our past,” a priest intones at convocation, that perfect emblem of my own fears of being still the self-absorbed teenager that would ask my parents to divorce so I could go to college for cheaper. There’s this idea that babies, before a certain age, are incapable of recognizing the desires of others and instead transplant their own concerns on those around them. In a lot of ways that is the lifestyle of teenagers, but if the movie had stopped there it would’ve felt like another article about how millennials are sacrificing home buying and marriage on an altar of avocado toast and student debt. Instead, Greta Gerwig (the writer/director) grants Lady Bird nuance. She wars with her mother, but she doesn’t hate her. She wants to be liked so desperately that she lies about the most basic things about herself. She holds the secrets of others close to her heart, because she wants to be trusted. She lies and she cries and she is a manipulative little shit, but most of all she feels like a person should.
Gerwig stretches the story out across a year, hitting on the bits of story that rise like memories out of high school. Theater practices and laying under the stars with boyfriends and swimming idly in pools on hot days. There’s a series of frank scenes that touch on adolescent sexuality in such a way I’ve never seen granted to women — no panty shots playing at teenage chastity, but rather two girls giggling in a locker room while they talk about self-pleasuring with a tub faucet.
I remember driving down the streets in my sleepy town with my friend, windows rolled down as the summer breeze rolled in, singing along to Sufjan Stevens “Chicago” before the song hit “If I was crying/In the van, with my friend/It was for freedom” and yelling “Fuck you Sufjan” because he was a pretentious ass and we were, as teenagers, above it all. I remember having a crush on a boy who was exactly like Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), who would talk so seriously about how important everything was, and who saw himself as some sort of artistic genius but totally stole the plot for Memento for his high school short story because he was artistically bankrupt. He feels like every 17 year old kids crush and every 27 year olds greatest regret.
Every character really, from Laurie Metcalf’s fierce but bedraggled mother, to Lady Bird’s siblings and her classmates, feels like an actualized person. That beyond the story there is more, Jenna who wants to be a mother when she grows up and Shelly who just wishes that her boyfriend’s little sister didn’t hate her. That somewhere in Sacramento, they’re just trying to make do, beyond Lady Bird’s car window.
I’m sorry this isn’t more of a review. Maybe this movie is only great because I see myself in it, catching on odd facets that ring true to me. Maybe it won’t work for you. What I do know is that Lady Bird is the first movie I’ve seen in a long while that I was happy to have watched.