Lady Bird is sure to withstand the test of time, with its multifaceted coming-of-age tale that holds a lesson for all.
Released in 2017 as her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird follows the title character Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, Ammonite and Little Women) as she navigates her senior year, desperate to forge an identity beyond Sacramento. Lady Bird has all the common tropes of your typical coming-of-age story; the boys, the prom and the graduation with the naïve teenager, who sits on the precipice of adulthood, at the centre of it all. Beyond this however, Lady Bird proves to be a multifaceted story with valuable lessons for all ages, ensuring that no matter who you are, you will come-of-age time and time again with every viewing of what is sure to be an all-time classic.
When we meet Lady Bird, she is on the return journey from a college tour with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf, Toy Story and Scream 2). As they bicker, Lady Bird confesses her wish to ‘live through something.’ On the surface, Lady Bird’s narrative follows her as she tries to do just that, embarking on a journey of typical teenager adventures. However, it wouldn’t be a true coming-of-age movie if there wasn’t lessons to be learnt, so here, despite Lady Bird’s hopes, it is not through these common teenage tropes that she finds her personhood. Instead, it is the exposure they bring to the true realities of life. Sprinkled amongst the fast-paced action scenes of a typical teen, there are moments of stillness that inspire both awareness and reflection. These moments are weaved into the narrative so subtly, that it builds an honest and effective character arc of personal growth for our central character. It allows for a gradual attainment of perspective, which is ultimately what youth are absent of, as when you are young, the world stretches little further than your wants and needs.
So, when you consider these factors alone, Lady Bird stands as a strong coming-of-age drama. However, it finds its true spark in the dual-perspective Gerwig offers, as it documents Marion’s journey with her daughter’s coming-of-age experience too. I will admit, this realisation only hit me after watching Lady Bird with my own mother, who watched tearful and sympathetic towards Marion throughout. This experience reminded me of a comment Gerwig had made in an interview with Stephen Colbert on the Late Show: ‘one person’s coming of age is another person’s letting go.’ From here, I challenged myself to watch Lady Bird as if Marion was the main character. What I found was a story of an adult, a mother, who although seemed to be edging further and further away from her daughter, was in fact tiptoeing down the similar road of self-discovery.
When we meet Marion, we may see someone who is uptight and controlling towards her daughter. She fulfils this villainous role in Lady Bird’s narrative by enforcing curfews and insisting clothes should be folded directly after taking them off. Her harshness may confuse you, as to her colleagues on the psychiatric ward, to her friends in the thrift store and to her son’s girlfriend, Shelly, she is a kind and patient woman. Nevertheless, what you will realise, if you look close enough, is that, just like her daughter, Marion is fighting with her own identity. She also struggles with her pride and how she is perceived by her peers, but most of all, she struggles with who she shall be when her daughter goes to college, as providing for her and being needed by her is all she’s ever known. However, although Marion and Lady Bird are slowly losing each other throughout, it is only when they are physically apart, that they come back together again.
Lady Bird ends twice over, with a respective lesson of gratitude and perspective for both, confident in its message that growth is not just for the young. It is here, in the forgotten back alleys of coming-of-age dramas, that Lady Bird finds its timelessness.