When Lady Bird is discussed, one word comes up more than any other: relatable. This may seem at odds with its rather niche story. Why would people relate to a film that is rooted in the experience of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, an aspiring, lower-middle class, sexually experimenting, Catholic high school student from Sacramento, as she seeks to rebel from her strict upbringing, attend a liberal arts college, and live a nonconformist existence, if the viewers themselves share few of these attributes?
The answer comes from writer-director Greta Gerwig’s talent for portraying conflict, shining in an airtight script. I rarely argue with anyone, something Lady Bird holds expertise in, but during scenes where her conflict with her mother peaks, I have no shame in admitting I wept (another rarity). While I’ve never been suspended from school or at odds with my parents over the way I dress, the scenes where Lady Bird argues with her mother over these issues were moving on a level that could not have been achieved if Gerwig did not have such a talent for dialogue. Lady Bird asks her mother, “Do you like me?” Her mother’s response, “Of course I love you,” paired with Lady Bird’s immediate “But do you like me?” is a conflict I believe everyone has had in some form during their adolescence.
The film’s brilliant dialogue allows for intricate characterisation that is seldom seen in teenage girls onscreen. Having a female director helps tremendously with this. Gerwig avoids the pitfalls of oversexualising adolescence or under-writing a character, providing more depth than the average coming-of-age character. Lady Bird has sexual agency, but is not objectified. Her experiences are relatable enough for the audience to step into her shoes, but specific enough to give her depth that many films lack. Lady Bird herself is propped up by remarkable supporting characters. Lady Bird’s mother and Kyle, her brief lover, feel similar to characters in our lives, capturing two different elements in what makes us come of age. Gerwig understands how the elements around us contribute to our experiences and how they transform us into a new persona, something that elevates Lady Bird on a level above other films of its genre.
Bethany Gemmell is a History student at the University of Edinburgh. She specialises in American History, with a particular interest in the representation of America in film, her other passion.