Lady Bird follows a year in the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson as she finishes her final year of school and applies to American Universities. There’s no traditional plot, but rather we’re taken on a journey through Christine’s life. We meet her friends, her family, her boyfriends, and watch as she gets jobs, performs in stage musicals and pulls pranks on her teachers.
Christine is an endearing and human portrayal of what it’s like to be a white teenage girl, and particularly one in a lower socio-economic bracket (without venturing into poverty porn territory). Christine is equal parts selfish and self-absorbed, but without it ever being a big enough character flaw to make you hate her, something that anyone who has ever spent time with a teenage girl can no doubt relate to. Her relationship with her mother is one that many women have grown up with; constant antagonism and persistent arguments that manage to be both the end of the world and also no big deal.
The film opens with Christine literally jumping out of a moving vehicle to get away from her mother, and this sets the tone for her motives for the rest of the film. She is in a constant state of trying to escape not just her circumstances, but also her mother. Again, something many teenage girls can relate to. The dynamic between the two McPherson women is not an abusive one though, but rather the result of two headstrong women with different opinions on what they want and should expect from life.
Christine’s relationship with her best friend Julia is, again, something relatable to most women. The unbridled delight they have in each other’s company, the spontaneous jokes and pure chemistry they have is enough to transport you back to your own early friendships. Those moments when you just knew that you had a best friend for life, that all of your in-jokes would always be relevant and that as soon as you were in the same room together you just started bouncing off each other verbally.
Christine’s dissatisfaction with her economic situation and her determination to better herself is also relatable. Some of us had the misplaced dream of growing up to be the next Spice Girl, while others dreamed of being movie stars or marine biologists. But Christine’s determination to get into a prestigious university reminds us of the hopes we harboured for our younger selves. The fact that she refuses to let this dream go, regardless of the impact it will have on her family only serves to make her portrayal more in line with the character’s age. It doesn’t occur to her to think about how her decisions are affecting her family, or to even think about her family at all. Her mother has to tell her how she’s hurt her father’s feelings, how she hasn’t noticed that he’s been laid off, or that he’s been struggling with depression for years. And this is in spite of the fact that we’re shown how much she loves her dad. Because she is, after all, a teenager.
Christine’s relationships with her romantic partners are also evocative of the heady days of puberty. Before we had the confidence to be ourselves, to assert what we wanted from a relationship, let alone stand by our opinions on things. Her first boyfriend, Danny, is everything we wished we’d had; kind, attentive, empathetic and with a wealthy grandmother to boot. So when she starts developing feelings for Kyle, his douchebaggery is that much more jarring. His pretentious attitude and treatment of Christine hit home all the harder because for most women, we know that guy. And for most of us he’s now a hilarious footnote in our romantic ledger, for Christine he’s the be all and end all.
What makes Lady Bird such a refreshing film, is not just that it’s the feminist answer to every ‘boy becoming a man’ movie we’ve seen a million times before, but also the way that it’s edited. It feels like the kind of thing your best friend would put together on iMovie right before you moved across country for college. It’s like all the best, most important bits of life from that year, snappily cut and edited into an incredibly enjoyable and entertaining 90 minutes. It is my sincerest hope that Lady Bird goes on to win all of the Oscars it is nominated for, because I would love to see more from director Greta Gerwig, and more movies about what it means to be a woman.
Lady Bird is in cinemas now.