Lady Bird in Love

*SPOILERS*

Despite being four months late, the charm of Lady Bird had not faded. The movie felt like an ode to my own upbringing in a small town. My hometown boasted a population of 100 000, a mere fifth of that of Sacramento, California, where Catherine “Lady Bird” McPherson called home. Even in a city five times as large as mine, she longed for adventure, somewhere with culture, somewhere with writers and poets—somewhere that wasn’t Sacramento.

The memory-like quality Greta Gerwig brings to this directing debut adds another level of nostalgia to the film. She has said in multiple interviews that the film was partly autobiographical though she adds, “none of it has actually happened... but everything is true.” Lady Bird is a story about a rebellious teenager from an all-girls Catholic school in a small town which, at first glance, seems to target a very specific audience. However, Gerwig’s approach allows her to create a story that feels genuine to everyone.

Though Lady Bird develops romantic relationships with two boys, the real story is Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, Marion. It’s complicated and messy and, at times, we’re made to wonder, “do they even love each other?” They are both stubborn and opinionated, with strong personalities—and it is perhaps these similarities that make them seem so opposed to each other.

The message of the movie is heavily focused in two consecutive scenes. In discussing Lady Bird’s college applications, Sister Sarah Jean notes how apparent it is that Lady Bird loves Sacramento from the detail with which she writes about it. Lady Bird herself is taken aback, dismissing it by saying “I guess I pay attention.” In response, the Sister sagely inquires, “Don’t you think they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

In the following scene, Lady Bird almost pleads to her mother, “I just… I wish that you liked me.” Hurt, Marion replies, “Of course I love you.” Though Lady Bird doesn’t dispute this, she implores further, “But do you like me?”

In these scenes, it begs the age-old question: what is love? No one knows for sure, and there is no one way to express it. Sometimes we try to show our love and miss the mark completely. Sometimes we don’t even know how to begin; sometimes we miss our chance.

The movie tells both Lady Bird’s and Marion’s stories. We see their moments of frustration, desperation, regret, sadness, and anger. But through the gaps created by tension and the cracks broken by pressure, we see glimpses of love—difficult, imperfect, but effortful. 

For me, Lady Bird was a reminder that despite all our differences, it is love that unifies us. The feelings and emotions in the film were universal, but I felt especially connected to it. The senseless rebellion, the angst, the mother-daughter conflicts, the longing for something more—they felt like a nod to my own formative years. Whether you are from a great big city or a town no one has ever heard of, whether you have smooth or rocky relationships with your friends, your significant others, your family, whether you find yourself or get completely lost... love will bring you home.

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