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Lady Bird: A Mother-Daughter Love Story

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

‘’Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?’’

In Lady Bird (2017) writer and director Greta Gerwig tells a coming-of-age story of a 17-year-old girl in Sacramento, that’s loosely autobiographical, associated with general aspects of her life. In the film, we follow Christine ‘’Ladybird’’ McPherson during her senior year at Catholic high school, who makes the move to New York for college. Similarly, Gerwig grew up in Sacramento, attended a Catholic high school, and went to New York for college. The film is incredibly personal. She even named the film’s protagonist after her mother.

Gerwig favours precision; scenes are cut tightly to leave the characters, and even the audience, very little space to breathe. The film itself is a result of great attention from its writer-director Greta Gerwig. What’s most significant about Lady Bird is the details—the emotional world of its characters, the charm with which she creates it. She takes ordinary moments and makes them important without making them extraordinary. There’s so much to watch, so many great lines of dialogue to hear, and such little time to fully appreciate the wonder of Lady Bird. Quoted from a Vanity Fair interview, Gerwig said, ‘’I make movies because I hope some nerdy lady will watch twenty times and pickup on all this stuff.’’ She’s talking about me. Lady Bird avoids cliches of the coming of age genre by allowing the audience to watch it unfold from the two sides. From the perspective of the teen and of the parent. It’s a love story between Lady Bird and Marion. From the outside, their relationship may look antagonistic, but they’re just attentive to one another. In the opening scene, Lady Bird and her mother, Marion, are driving back to Sacramento crying together listening toan audiobook. Then Marion is ridiculing Lady Bird as being “not even worth state tuition”. It’s rare for a film to fully acknowledge how complex mother-daughter love is, as well as how a parent’s best intentions for her child can be obscured by poor communication or personal fixations. Gerwig said that for anyone who’s argued with a parent in a car there’s a feeling of being trapped and that you may want to throw yourself out of the car…well that’s exactly what Lady Bird does.

For a film devoted to a sense of place, it occupies that place only slightly, offering brief snippets of well-known sites.This is accurate to Lady Bird herself. She ‘’hates California’’. It’s ‘’soul-killing’’. Like many teens, she spends the entire film wanting to leave her hometown, to escape to ‘’where culture is in the world’’ to truly find herself.

Towards the end of the film, we get time to take in the sights of Sacramento as Lady Bird drives around her hometown for the first time. She gets emotional over ‘’the bends she's known her whole life’’. She clearly loves Sacramento. The only other time in the film we’ve got to appreciate Sacramento is an earlier scene where Marion is driving home from the hospital. Later, on a voicemail, Lady Bird asks if her mother ‘’ever felt emotional the first timeshe drove in Sacramento.’’ The answer? She still does.

I think the real power of Lady Bird is its tangible nature. It feels real. It feels like a life you’ve lived. It pays attention.


This post was written by Charlotte as part of her participation on Kingston Film Festival's Work Experience this July. For more information on upcoming work experience and other events, keep an eye on our website and 'Arts Emergency'

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