High-school graduation is, perhaps, one of the most confusing and tumultuous times in the lives of parents and their kids who are suddenly no longer ‘kids’ and many of whom would be leaving their town for the first time to pursue their education, the first real stepping stone towards a career of their dreams. This has been a recurring theme in films such as Steven Chbosky’s The Perks of being a Wallflower and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Although these films explore relationships in a similar time-period in people’s lives, they address very different aspects of those relationships. When The Perks of being a Wallflower addresses an introvert’s relationship with his seniors at the backdrop of a family tragedy, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is almost exclusively focussed on the dynamics between three misfit, one of whom has a degenerative respiratory condition, where they all journey together towards acceptance of imminent loss and still finding happiness.
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird brings out the nuances of growing-up pains through the eyes of a young Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson and her mother. Christine or Lady Bird as she prefers to be called as, is a strong-willed, vibrant and rebellious girl who feels suffocated and beleaguered in the social windings of a small-town Sacramento. The McPherson household has never really been a “well-to-do” family and saving money for a local community college has always been the de facto dream. But Christine doesn’t want to spend her whole life living in a town which, according to her, is devoid of any “culture”. She sees herself studying in one of those big cities on the east coast like New York. Her mother Marion, who has grown up in Sacramento, has had a harsh childhood with an abusive alcoholic for a mother. After getting married to her husband Larry, she had also dreamed that they would save enough money to escape the drudgery of her home town. But fate had other plans and they had ended up living their all their lives. Seeing her young daughter clamoring for a “bigger, better life”, she is reminded of her own younger self who had a plan jotted down. She is also reminded of her dejected and bitter self when nothing pans out and her dreams are shattered. She hates this idea that her bright-eyed Christine may have to face such soul-crushing defeat at the hands of life. This makes the dynamic between them very complicated wherein a part of her wants her daughter to succeed but then on the outset she acts like a strict unflinching matriarch who forbids her daughter from even applying to the east-coast colleges.
Lady Bird is also a coming of age story for Christine that is told through her dynamics with her friends at school. Her friend Julie is her closest and truest friend with whom she can be open about anything but over time, Julie becomes a reflection of her own small-town self who doesn’t have ambition. As she meets new people from the wealthier side of town, she sees in them everything that she herself wants to have – a big house on a swanky street, expensive clothes and glowing beauty. This aspect of her story is a more comic narrative as is expected from the mind of teenagers whose worlds are far removed from the adult struggles that their parents go through.
Saoirse Ronan’s portrayal of Christine of a rebellious, vibrant young dreamer is hard-hitting in its innocence. She knows exactly what she wants and her frustration on the apparent lack of support from her mother tears her apart. This emotion is poignantly carried throughout the film by Ronan. Laurie Metcalf as Christine’s mother is a very complex character to define. She is kind and yet angry, giving and yet controlling. She is not sure herself how to react to her daughter’s demands, thinking that what she has provided had never been enough. But in her heart of hearts, she knows where Christine is coming from for she had been there herself. Metcalf is authentic as a mother and her scenes with Ronan are the best in the film. Beanie Feldstein as Julie is a quintessential friend who keeps Christine grounded and helps her understand the truth in people.
Lady Bird as a narrative stands somewhere in the grey area of trying to be a mother-daughter film and a typical coming-of-age film. For me, the former aspect felt more appealing and deep than the latter which was more like a distraction. None of the characters, except Julie, stick with the narrative and seem like forced plot-points that just serve to show Christine’s rebellious nature. The opening scene of the film is one of the best scenes I have seen in a long time and yet the pacing doesn’t keep up with it as the film progresses. Nominated in five categories including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress, Lady Bird is perhaps the weakest contender so far but you never know, the Academy is full of surprises.
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