There is a wonderful moment in Lady Bird when, in a heated mother/daughter exchange, Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf), reveals how her daughter, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), has been hurting her father (Tracy Letts) with the simple act of not wanting to be dropped off in front of school. While a common teenage action, it carries great significance here. The embarrassment conveyed is not one of heritage, but rather financial status or lack there of.
To been seen with her dad would be an admission that she is literally and figuratively from the wrong side of the Sacramento tracks.
It is this sense of economic guilt that serves as the foundation of Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird. A coming-of-age tale set in 2002, the film observes the tense relationship between Lady Bird and Marion as the former’s growing sense of independence impacts the family. Feeling stifled by life in Sacramento, Lady Bird longs to go to a liberal arts college in New York. A place that she feels will truly appreciate her need to express herself in creative ways.
While Lady Bird has grand aspirations for the future, her mom is more concerned with the harsh realities of the present. Knowing that the family is struggling to scrape by financially, Marion is constantly aware of what they don’t have, and the impact that the appearance of poverty will have on those who have it all. As she points out to her outspoken daughter, those with the power to hire you will not do so if you look like trash.
Of course, like most teenagers, Lady Bird has her own issues that are more important in her eyes. The primary concern being not having the grades needed to get a scholarship out of state, and the various romantic relationships with boys (Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet) who may or may not be worth giving her virginity to.
Gerwig brings a rich authenticity to the characters she constructs in the film. These are all individuals who we can identify with, regardless of whether its Laurie Metcalf’s passively aggressive overbearing mom, or Rowan’s identity seeking self-centred teen. The central characters in the film speak to the strength of family and the realization that where you are from is just as important, in shaping you as a person, as where you are going.
Showing further growth as a writer, Lady Bird solidifies Gerwig as a director destined for big things in the future. Not only does she display a great understanding of character and pacing, but she is able to get to the root of an issue in a natural way. All of this makes for a wonderful exploration of a mother and daughter learning to truly see each other through the dense cloud of financial strife and budding adulthood.