Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 34 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—
this is the first commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s mother-daughter film (with also a nice touch of “father”) is a welcome relief from the many thrillers out now in which the world, the galaxy, or in Star Wars, many galaxies, are at stake. Coming of age is a far cry from such “everything is at stake” tales, but for the person in question, 17-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), the stakes are just as high. The film, spanning the year 2002, includes issues with Lady Bird’s parents, especially her intrusive mother; her first loves (including giving up her virginity); making, losing, and regaining friendship; and fighting to achieve her dream of attending a college in the East, rather than bow to her mother’s desire that she attend a California university. And, though it is understated in a brief shot near the end, there is a touch of arriving at a small measure of spiritual maturity as well.
In her senior year at a liberal Catholic high school in Sacramento, Christine, or Lady Bird as she prefers to be called, can scarcely wait to flee the city, even though this means she will leave behind best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein). Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) opposes this for financial reasons and emotional reasons: the family can afford her high school only because she is on a scholarship, the two women always shopping at a large thrift store when Ladybird needs a new dress. Laurie pointedly tells her daughter that she is not smart enough to gain a college scholarship, as her average grades make evident. Unspoken are the mother’s fear of losing her dominant role in Lady Bird’s life she clings to so desperately.
At one moment mother and daughter are getting along fine, and then one, usually the mother, says something that sets them arguing and even screaming at each other It is apparent that the daughter’s long-time insistence upon being called by the nick name that she has chosen is a part of her rebellion.
At school Lady Bird and Julia join the drama class. Julia is thrilled that they both win parts in the play the class will present, though Lady Bird is quick to point out that everyone got a part. She becomes romantically involved with fellow thespian Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges), but this is short-lived when she discovers he has a haunting secret. Event follows event, including a second boy with whom she engages in sex for the first time; a new friendship with a popular girl that precludes her long one with Julie; an unusual prom night that leads to reconciliation with her former friend; and much more—including a college decision that jeopardizes her relationship with her mother. The ending is a little ambiguous, but includes a visit to a church and a phone call that just might lead to a rapprochement with her mother.
I loved Greta Gerwig’s Francis Ha, but in this film that she now directs, she has advanced far beyond her previous achievement. And so has Ladybird, her hard-won maturity suggested by her reverting to her given name of Christine. By telling a lie to her new girl friend and thereupon losing her, as well as being lied to by her second boyfriend, and not telling her mother about her secret college plans, the girl surely has learned the necessity of truth and openness in relationships. An unrelated touch that I appreciated in the film is that it is not one that pits smart kids against stupid adults, nor does it portray the church as oppressive. The teaching nuns are compassionate and attempt to understand their students. The parents have their faults, but they are not dolts.
Although this might seem like a chick flick to some male viewers, I hope that they are mature enough to embrace this as a worthy coming of age film—or that you women viewers can convince them so.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the January issue of Visual Parables.