“We’re afraid we’ll never escape our past… we’re afraid of what the future will bring… we’re afraid we won’t be loved… we won’t be liked… and won’t succeed.”
This is what a priest announces to a mass filled with attendees from an all-girls Catholic high school in Greta Gerwig’s new film, “Lady Bird.” The film — starring Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Laurie Metcalf (“Toy Story,” “Roseanne”) — follows Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Ronan) during her senior year of high school in 2002-03 suburban Sacramento. This coming-of-age story highlights Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother (Metcalf), family, friends, boyfriends and home city — all while socioeconomic context and historical context (the Iraq War) play their part as characters in the film.
With a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie has garnered almost universal acclaim. And rightly so — “Lady Bird” brilliantly weaves universal emotional truths into a nuanced and rich version of the coming-of-age story, by the realistic depth and complexity of its characters.
At first glance, it may seem that this is a film that has been done before — but, by virtue of the emotional beats it hits, it’s a film that succeeds by sticking to form. But what makes ‘Lady Bird’ unique and effective, is that the characters follow no archetypes, and because they are so real, we relate to them due to their very humanity.
Lady Bird, and other characters in the film, are inherently believable. It’s easy to see yourself interacting with them as individuals. A natural connection develops because certain human feelings exist (longings and fears that are common across all characters). By Lady Bird being the best version of herself (a mantra Metcalf’s character repeats), we see her as a real person moving through Gerwig’s scripted world.
Many viewers have, or will have, experience(d) several adolescent events in the film. And, while your particular life experience may be quite different, you surely can relate to breadth of Lady Bird’s smiles, laughs, angsts and contradictions. For instance, there are moments in the film when Lady Bird is short with her mother — who clearly does so much for Lady Bird — and says quite hurtful things (evidently, her mother also says quite hurtful things in return). Even with this dynamic, the viewer never sees Lady Bird as a “bad” character, and never loses faith in her as the film’s driver. This faith remains, because, subconsciously, the viewer knows they themselves are capable of the very same behaviors.
Lady Bird’s contradictions are not flaws. Rather, they are strengths; because her honest, raw moments are a necessary experience in adolescent growth and development. By the end of the film it is very clear that Lady Bird has grown tremendously.
The fear of escaping the past — or of not succeeding, or of not being loved, or of being ashamed of a hometown — all originate from the same human longing for connection and love. “Lady Bird” is a film about finding comfort with the people and places closest to your heart; and how self-acceptance is a foundation for self-confidence and personal growth. That is the human story, and that is why this film resonates.
Greg can be found on Instagram at @thejohngregory
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