best of 2017: lady bird


I’ve seen Lady Bird three times. I’ve cried each time. Different parts. The same parts. Out of sadness, bitterness, elation, and even once because there was something in my eye. But always the scene where Laurie Metcalf does that thing. I know you know what I’m talking about. THAT THING.

Producing tears of me is not always the sign of a great film. I cried at the end of LA LA LAND like every other white sap with a dream. I cried when I saw two dachshunds walking down the street last week. I cried because I allowed the thought of ~no sweaters~ to pass across my cerebellum. These may be issues in mechanics. But not in Lady Bird. Never in Lady Bird.

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is nothing short of heart-wrenching. It’s a coming-of-age tale told at a most pivotal moment. When you're at the edge of your nest, teetering. Waiting for a push or waiting to fall. When your whole life stands in front of you and you stand in front of it, weary, a little lost, but determined to hide these facts behind all you’ve got.

The titular character, Christine “Lady Bird” Johnson, finds herself in this place. But unlike most of us, she seems well-equipped for push or fall. Christine has crafted an identity for herself: Lady Bird. Lady Bird who is confident beyond reason. Lady Bird who is from Sacremento, but belongs somewhere else. Lady Bird who is outspoken, passionate, pink-haired and letting you know. Even Lady Bird who steals magazines from her local grocery store. But not Lady Bird who is free, totally. 

Yet a flame on fire, Lady Bird struggles against the confines of her waning childhood. She has a forceful mother, played by the aforementioned talent and Should-Be Best Actress Laurie Metcalf, a mom still trying to mold her daughter from society’s expecting clay. She worries for Christine, she loves her, and in Lady Bird’s view: stifles her. Other obstacles abound. Her father has lost his job, which limits the finances available for those all-attractive East Coast schools. Her well-educated brother and his girlfriend sleep in the living room. Lady Bird attends a strict catholic school that limits her expression, though not her unconsecrated wafer intake.

In truth, Lady Bird is not imprisoned by any real means. But struggles are magnified by youth, and so much of the film is a witness to Lady Bird’s attempts to break free. The film’s bookends, a fight with her mother over where she’ll go to college, and its eventual resolution, are met in between by the events of Lady Bird’s farewell to childhood. School dances, fights, passing her drivers test, screaming into the suburban night – all of these milestones are illuminated by Saoirse Ronan’s unique and star-turning performance. The other two points on Young Hollywood’s current triumvirate, Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) guest as Lady Bird’s love interests. They are excellent and I can’t help but hope to see each of them in every film of 2018. But ultimately, to Lady Bird, they're lulls. Stops on the way down from that free fall, the one every teenager thinks they want. That descent which will lead, certainly, to a new beginning. But in every beginning –

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking fleeting crushes and dishonest boyfriends and acne are the most important relationships of our teenagehood. But later, sometimes much later, sometimes while watching a Greta Gerwig masterpiece, we realize that the people who were there all along –our parents and our best friends – those people are the ones we’ll yearn for in years to come. These are the people we’ll think about as we walk through our new cities, as we breathe in our new lives. We’ll want to share every moment. We’ll wonder why we didn’t take them along with us. We’ll question why we walked so far away. We’ll hurt and we’ll lay in bed and we’ll yell.

But then, when we're ready, we'll pick up the phone. 

Lady Bird won Best Comedy and Best Actress at this Sunday’s 75th Golden Globes Awards and was nominated in two other categories. Greta Gerwig was robbed of a Best Director nominee. But in my heart, and all of the other universes, she won. Long Live Lady Bird. 

Illustration by Sarah Crawford. Based on the Lady Bird poster art.