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Film Review: “Lady Bird” Soars Into College With Brilliance

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Shot in the same cloth as the artsy, independent films that are starting to become signature of many Oscar nominees, Lady Bird soars as one of this year’s must-see films. Having both directed and written the screenplay of the film, Greta Gerwig’s debut stuns as a beautifully raw and loving sketch of family and home. 

Saoirse Ronan, a two-time Oscar nominee, began acting at a young age. She continues to amaze as she brings to life the titular character, Christine McPherson, complete with the dyed red hair. Extroverted, impulsive and outgoing, Christine goes around introducing herself as “Lady Bird”, desperately trying to embody the persona she dreams herself of being, and shed her given name. At the same time, she often proclaims loudly her wishes to leave behind her suffocating hometown of Sacramento in pursuit of a cultured, intellectual life in New York. 

A high school senior attending an all-girls’ Catholic school, Christine applies to colleges on the East coast with the help of her warm, “nice-guy” father played by Tracy Letts. Christine does all the things a rebellious Catholic school student can do: eat the unconsecrated wafers, roll up the skirt of her uniform and speak out during an abortion assembly. She’s reckless and loud, yet terribly endearing as a portrait of what youth is like. She makes mistakes and shows her flaws, but it is impossible to hate Lady Bird. 

A short 93 minutes, the film moves quickly as Christine tries out theater for the first time with her best friend, Julie Steffans. In her community theater troupe she meets her first boyfriend, Danny O’Neill, an earnest, lovable Irish-Catholic and played adorably by Lucas Hedges. As the film progresses, Christine tries to find herself with a different boyfriend and a different best friend, unaware and uncaring of the trail of pain she leaves behind in her pursuit of herself. She is much like a firework, falling into a dark place, sometimes of her own making, yet wonderfully brilliant and dazzling as she falls. 

Like other recent films that were coming-of-age films with strong female characters, like The Diary of a Teenage Girl and The Edge of Seventeen, Christine thinks about sex, often. She dreams of it as a special moment with a boy she loves. It was surprising at first to see how this film, like the others mentioned, frankly portrayed sex as a normal desire women have, both hilarious and painful in their pursuit of discovering their sexuality. However, it was enjoyable to watch the 21st century woman depicted on the big screen, equally as ambitious, sexually or otherwise, as any man. 

The movie is about Christine, but it’s also about her relationship with her family, especially her strong-willed mother, Marion McPherson. Like the young so often do, she equally spouts her lifelong dreams, unfounded beliefs about life and desire to leave home to a far away place, simultaneously unaware that speaking her mind can be caustic and hurtful to those at home who love her. Christine also clashes with her brother Miguel and his girlfriend, Shelly, yet her tender relationship with her father is one way the film portrays that Christine has a lot of love to give.

Laurie Metcalf’s Marion works as a full-time nurse, the single income of the family once her husband is laid off and is the only one able to spar with her expressive daughter. It is to Metcalf’s credit that she able to have these wonderful yelling matches with Ronan, yet express only through her eyes the immense love she has for her daughter. Her fear for her daughter’s safety and future is also palpable, as the film is set in 2002 and Christine loudly yearns to go to New York, even in the wake of 9/11. 

Certainly my favorite aspect of the film is how it illustrates a young girl’s emotions about her hometown. Christine walks around claiming she hates Sacramento and everyone in it, waiting for the day she can get out and see the world. However, in a conversation with a nun from her school who read Christine’s college essay said Christine’s love for Sacramento is reflected in her writing. It is impossible to escape, the place from which one is born and raised, at times suffocating and terribly mundane, one inherently has such love and affection for one’s hometown. This fact is reverberated back to us in the film’s final scene, surveying Sacramento’s landscapes and cityscapes, as tender and heartwarming as Christine’s face as she drives through her hometown. 

As Christine shouts to her mother, “You are so infuriating!” she could have just as easily been describing herself, the classic teenager she is. Like my own teenage years had done to me, the film brought both laughter and tears in a wonderful portrait of family and love, ushering in waves of nostalgia in its affectionate strokes towards one’s hometown. 

Photos courtesy of Merie Wallace / A24

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