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Lady Bird’s story is your story. But it wasn’t mine.
I don’t call myself a film critic. I call myself a film writer. Why? I can’t be completely objective about a movie. Emotions always get involved. When I watch a movie I feel things. I experience joy, sadness, enlightenment, confusion, anxiety, fear, shock or awe. I’m overwhelmed or underwhelmed. Some movies open my eyes to new experiences. Some unlock something within me that’s been dormant for years. Sometimes a movie makes me so mad I want to punch something. Sometimes a movie makes me so happy I want to share it with anyone who will listen.
Recently I asked myself the question, how does someone appreciate a film when they have no emotional connection to it?
Greta Gerwig’s critically acclaimed and award winning film Lady Bird (2017). Released to much praise, the story follows Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), a high school senior living in Sacramento circa 2002. We follow her as struggles with her transitional year. She has a strong hate/love relationship with her home town, butts heads with her strong-willed mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), loses her close bond with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and pretends to live in a fancy house in the rich part of town to impress a popular girl at school. Then there are the boys. She falls for Danny (Lucas Hedges) and Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), two very different boys but both relationships offer the same potential for heartbreak. Lady Bird, whose real name is Christine, is opinionated, brash, and desperate to find some happiness in what she deems a bleak existence.
In one online review, a viewer pointed out that Sacramento could be any town and that Lady Bird could be any teenager. This is true. Lady Bird’s story is one many people could relate to. Many of us have complicated relationships with our hometown, with a parent, with a friend, with a teacher and with our first love. In the film Lady Bird goes through the whole gamut of life experiences from losing her virginity, to fighting with her mom, to watching her dad go through depression, to losing and regaining a best friend and to losing, finding and losing again that romantic connection with another person. And her name change to Lady Bird is symbolic; she’s a young woman who wants to spread her wings and fly away. And as for Sacramento, the hometown she thought she hated so much… It took her leaving for New York, shedding her self-appointed moniker and experiencing a new life to realize how much she actually loved that town and missed it.
When I was 17 years old, my experience was the complete opposite of Lady Bird’s. I hated my hometown of Milford, MA and still do to this day. Every visit back is filled with dread. In fact I despised Milford so much as a teenager that I attended an agricultural high school in another county. Mostly because I wanted to spend as much time away from my town as possible. In the film, Lady Bird who once joked about living on the wrong side of the tracks begins to feel peer pressure to please the popular crowd. I felt none of this pressure in high school and I thought the popular kids, barring one notable exception, were all idiots. I butted heads with my dad not my mom. I didn’t have a sibling growing up, Lady Bird has a brother. My parents didn’t have any opinions or influence on my college applications. I didn’t go to my prom. I didn’t have a best friend or boyfriends. While many of you were Lady Birds growing up, I was not. At all.
People talk about stories being mirrors (reflecting yourself) and windows (with a view to someone else’s experience). Watching Lady Bird was like looking through a window and not fully understanding what was happening on the other side. I had to break down this film into its parts. Great actors? Check. Well-developed characters? Check. A deep connection to a particular time and place? Check and check. Good dialogue, pacing and storytelling. More checks. Lady Bird is a brilliant film. Greta Gerwig, Saorise Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are a fierce female filmmaking trio. This movie is for many people even if it wasn’t for me.
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Further Reading: My review of Brooklyn (2015)
Raquel Stecher View All
Great review and especially refreshing hearing your own personal experiences and how they influenced the way you experienced the film. I came to the movie thinking, I have absolutely NOTHING in common with this character: She’s female, I’m male; she’s a teenager, I’m in my 50s; she’s Catholic, I’m Protestant; she’s from California, I’m from the Deep South. We literally have not one thing in common. But I loved the film. (My take on the film: https://journeysindarknessandlight.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/lady-bird-2017-greta-gerwig/) Again, great post, especially the personal touch.
Hey Andy, Thanks for sharing your piece. I just read it. I have to say that I disagree with you on a couple points from your comment. I agree it’s a fantastic film but I don’t think my emotional disconnect is the same as the particulars that you mentioned. It’s not that’s she’s from California, it’s that she has a complicated love/hate relationship with her hometown. I had 100% hate relationship with my hometown. Sacramento can be any town in any state. And I was of a particular religion that was Protestant yes but was also incredibly repressive. Rebellion just didn’t happen and if I truly rebelled before I left I would have been kicked out. That’s not something that would happen to Lady Bird. I don’t want to go into particulars but there were a lot of things she does in the movie that I was just not allowed to do. I think my disconnect is much deeper than those particulars like age, geography, etc.
Sure, each particular carries lots of variations and complications – totally understand. I just think that on the surface – i.e. looking at the “big picture” stuff – I had almost nothing in common with the character yet I empathized with her in so many ways even though my experience was so different from hers. Hard to explain, but it made many connections that I can’t (obviously!) explain very well.
I haven’t seen Lady Bird yet, but I can understand your emotional disconnect. I feel the same way about most of John Hughes’s movies (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an exception). My high school experience was much more Fast Times at Ridgemont High than Sixteen Candles! Anyway, it sounds like Lady Bird might be a lot like John Hughes’s movies for me.