There are no two ways about it… father son relationships in cinema are a dime a dozen. I’m sure just me mentioning it is enough to send your mind reeling and firing of memories of… The Lion King, The Godfather, the Bicycle Thieves and many, many more. However, like gold dust the mother and daughter relationship, on the other hand, has always been hard to find on our movie screens. Which is such a great shame as it offers such an abundance of intrigue and drama. As we all know, unlike male relationships in which so much is left unsaid or to fester beneath the surface, women are far better at communicating their thoughts and feelings – for better or worse. And in no other female relationship will you find more unflinching, biting honesty than in the mother/daughter dynamic. Thus, it is from this fertile soil that Greta Gerwig sows the seeds of a film about teenage angst, and allows it blossom into a remarkable coming of age tale – for both mother and daughter. While the northern lights and shooting stars are so rarely seen, when they are – it’s magical. Lady Bird also has that magic.
It takes such a self-assured and slightly egotistical person to not only give themselves a nickname but to also demand that even their family call them by it. Lady Bird is such a person. However, to her credit, such arrogance is an ode to her ambitions and elevated sense of self. Gerwig makes this is made abundantly clear from the gecko. Despite hailing from boring and unremarkable Sacramento, Ca. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) has dreams firmly aimed at attending a Liberal Arts College along the East Coast, “I want to go where culture is…like New York. Or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire, where writers live in the woods.” Unfortunately, her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) doesn’t agree, and sooner envisages her daughter remaining closer to home and being as unremarkable as… well, she is. Although she would never admit to it.
The rest of the movie features the usual hallmarks of a John Hughes movie: an overbearing parent, mean rich kids, prom and of course – the bad boy, Greta never surrenders to clichés or stereotypes. Instead, she imbues each and every one of her characters with depth and colour. To the extent that you could peel the camera away from Lady Bird, follow any one of the incredible characters around her (even the janitor!), and still be guaranteed a rich and textured film.
Ultimately, it’s the mother/daughter relationship that burns bright like fire at the centre of the Lady Bird that gives it life. But the thing with fire is… whilst it can warm and bring light; it’s also devastatingly destructive. The bond shared between Lady Bird and Marion is just that – unpredictable and volatile. In one minute, the pair could be in a furious argument and in the next, they could be cooing dreamily over a gorgeous pastel dress. However, what makes Marion’s character so effective, isn’t that she portrayed exclusively as a bitter, old woman hell-bent on making her daughter’s life a misery. Rather a hard-working mother (working two jobs), who despite being riddled with flaws of her own, only seeks to protect and nurture her daughter, “I only want you to be the best version of yourself.”
These funny and touching moments between mother and daughter, perfectly illustrates the importance of female directors as no doubt Gerwig’s own personal experiences would have informed her work, leading to a layer of honesty a male writer would have struggled to achieve or even replicate. Gerwig’s female perspective also helps Lady Bird purge itself from both the male gaze and female stereotypes. For example, while an Andie in Pretty in Pink (Dir. John Hughes) would have her entire life dictated by whether or not a cute boy likes her, Lady Bird, on the other hand, couldn’t give a sh*t. For Lady Bird, boys are a mere backdrop and the occasional excitement when life gets too mundane. Cute boys don’t define Lady Bird. She defines herself.