(Release Info London schedule; February 16th, 2018, Curzon-Soho, 14:00)
In "Lady Bird", Greta Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new cinematic voice with her directorial debut, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter. Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after 'Lady Bird's father Larry (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, "Lady Bird" is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.
'Lady Bird' and Marion are two sides of the same coin. Their similarities are what make them so close and als so different. Growing up as a woman in America is something completely diferent for Marion than it's for 'Lady Bird'. As a woman born in the 1980s, 'Lady Bird' is part of the generation where it's suddenly possible to have big, ambitious dreams for yourself. Marion comes out of 'The Post-World War II' 1950s culture. 'Roe v. Wade' would have been passed while she was in her twenties. Her parents would have lived through 'The Depression'. Even arguments about how we treat our things are deeply rooted in their respective generations. We underestimate how much those diferences cause tension between mothers and daughters. The mother-daughter relationship is the love story of the ﬁlm. For a long time the working title of the movie was 'Mothers And Daughters'. Generally with ﬁlms about teenage girls, the story centers around one boy; the prince charming, the answer to all of life’s problems. Most women have inﬁnitely beautiful, incredibly complicated relationships with their mothers in their teenage years. The ﬁlm puts that at the center, where at every moment you feel empathy for both characters.
Larry is 'Lady Bird’s' hero. She adores him completely and cannot bear that she has caused him pain or that he has sadness that she cannot ﬁx. Larry is the person who quietly balances everyone. He's the ballast. He loves his wife and he loves his daughter and he wants them to see each other the way he sees them. There’s a scene early on in the movie where Marion makes a joke, and Larry makes a joke back, and they both laugh. They like each other. Of course they version had good things and hard things over the years, and it has not all been easy, but this is not a story of a marriage in trouble. People who can laugh like that are okay. They just exist the way they're, they know what bonds them together and makes them a unit. Sometimes things in movies are explicitly spelled out, whereas in life, the film just encounters all diferent types of families and don’t always get a backstory.
Miguel’s (Jordan Rodriguez) relationship to his parents is much less fraught. He never fought his mother the way 'Lady Bird' does. But he and Shelly have fallen into that strange liminal space that so many college graduates ﬁnd themselves; you've graduated from college, but your adult life has yet to really begin. They're professionally stalled. Both are very smart and very conscious, but they've not ﬁgured out how to translate their ideals into modern work life. The piercings don’t help. That caught-in-between thing that they're going through also provides nuance to 'Lady Bird’s' idea that college will be her chance to get out. It's the counterargument to that very straight narrative. We often imagine our lives to move in a line when really they're curving and swooping and doubling back. You see the child he was and the man he’s still becoming. It's very important that every single character outside of the main orbit of 'Lady Bird' and her mom, whether it's Larry or Miguel and Julie (Beanie Feldstein) or Father Leviatch (Stephan Henderson) or Mr. Bruno (Jake McDorman), is a character that if you focused on any one of them, you could make a whole movie about their lives. That they're real people. That they're not just functions in 'Lady Bird’s' life.
'Lady Bird' is at that moment where she loves love and is looking for an object to project that onto, and Danny (Lukas Hedges) is such a good object. He’s nice and he’s handsome and he’s the kind of boyfriend you dream your daughter brings home. 'Lady Bird' isn’t wrong to love him, she’s just wrong about what form it should take. The thing she feels drawn to is still real. No, he isn’t being his true self, and he isn’t ultimately interested in her romantically. But he really does like her, and he really does want to be around her, because she's wild and arrogant and free. He just is so crushed by certain expectations of his family and the world of 'The Catholic Community' in 2002. Danny so badly wants to be the person that 'Lady Bird' wants him to be, and although it's a denial of who he's, it's still incredibly loving and endearing. He wishes he could be her perfect boyfriend. 'Lady Bird' sees Danny as being part of the story of her life without seeing his story. When he visits her at the cofee shop, that so the moment when 'Lady Bird' starts her transformation and sees him as a person with his own narrative. People don't change in an instant. But in that moment, suddenly the weight of his personhood hits her, and that's when her story starts to turn.
For 'Lady Bird' Julie's friendship means pure friendship-love of her youth. There's a quality, when you fall in friendship-love with someone in high school; and usually it happens in high school because it's the ﬁrst time you've any real autonomy; where you literally could spend every waking hour with them and still want more. The minute you're dropped of at your house, you call them and say, what are you doing now? Similarly, the moment when 'Lady Bird' goes and gets Julie for prom, it has the same feeling of go get your girl that you get from heterosexual love stories. It’s the boombox-over-the-head moment, but with your best friend. Kyle (Timotheé Chalamet) is a frustrating character, but he’s very sharp. It’s easy to laugh at his ideas, but they're grounded in real capacity for deep thought. Through Kyle, 'Lady Bird' experiences that knock-you-over sexual attraction for the ﬁrst time. She understands all 'R&B' songs in one second. She constructs a narrative about him that doesn’t exist, because that’s what teenage girls do. Women are raised on these romances, and they're very hard to shake as ideals. Even when it's incredibly clear that the object of your afection isn't behaving like a movie-star heartthrob. You feel the intensity of the emotions while acknowledging that they're a house built on sand.
The name 'Lady Bird' comes out of something mysterious. Re-naming is both a creative act and a religious act, it's one of authorship and a way of ﬁnding your true identity through creating a new one. It's a lie in service of the truth. In the Catholic tradition, you're given a conﬁrmation name, to name yourself after a saint that you hope to emulate. In rock and roll, you give yourself a new name in order to occupy this bigger mythical space. When you're a teenager in America, you organize your life around academic years; 'Freshman', 'Sophomore', 'Junior', 'Senior'. It always make sense to tell the story of the whole year. The rituals of the year, the circularity. The way we end where we began. It's a spiraling upwards. Senior year burns brightly and is also disappearing as quickly as it emerges. There's a certain vividness in worlds that are coming to an end. There's a pre-sentiment of loss, of lasts. This is true for both parents and children. It's something beautiful that you never appreciated and ends just as you come to understand it. The way time rushes forward is a theme of the ﬁlm, one scene tumbling into the next. We can never hold onto it.
During the credit sequence in the church, the ﬁrst words spoken are; in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is always said in mass, all the time, constantly. As a teenager, you think; well, where am I in those people? I’m not a father, son or holy spirit. It’s a feeling of, where do I ﬁt in this patriarchal structure? Religion is storytelling, a way to create meaning in life, and it’s difcult if you don’t see yourself reﬂected in it. 'Lady Bird' is running into this problem, and railing against it. However, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) presents an alternative side to Catholicism. She's not gushy or saccharine, but she's solid and loving in a matter-of-fact way. She’s a bit of a hard-ass, but very invested in the lives of her students. She presents another option, another way of expressing faith. The idea of grace, theologically, is fascinating. It's not something that you can earn, it's given to you. It's not because you’re a good person that you get to experience grace. Baptism is a moment of grace. You could see it as saving babies from hell, but you could also see it as experiencing love and grace before you've been able to do anything at all to deserve it. This kind of grace continually happens to 'Lady Bird', and her journey is one of accepting it. 'Lady Bird' is not a speciﬁcally religious character, and she doesn’t have a mystical experience, but it's the occasion for her transformation. The place that she's from and the tradition she was raised in gave her both roots and wings. She goes back to the church in the end because it's home, but she cannot stay there. She can only move forward and accept the gifts that have been given to her and say thank you.
The ﬁlm takes place immediately in the post-9/11 world. The goal is not to comment on global politics or domestic economy, but to present it. We lived through the complete erosion of the middle class. We're still living within that new economic landscape. The invasion of Iraq is a very vivid memory. And, of course, we're still there today, we've not pulled out all of the troops. The film shows the modern televised war, the propaganda of it and the theatre of it. How the horror is both available to you but also completely managed and distant. There's the terror of war and the uncertainty of the job market, and there are also crushes and friendships. Life doesn’t divide itself up into subjects. There’s not history over there and personal life over here. It all happens together. When people think about California, they tend to think about San Francisco or Los Angeles, but there's the massive central agricultural valley running down the middle of the state. Sacramento is located at the northern edge of it, and although it's the state capital, there's farmland in its bones. It's not a show-of-y city. It does not brand itself or try to sell itself. There's a modesty and an integrity to the place and the people. The way they organized their closets, the things that they valued, the agrarian middle class worldview that shaped this corner of the country.
The feeling of deep shame that comes from denying who you're is a moment the film wants to work backwards from, when she rejects her home, the audience feels personally betrayed and hurt. As if they, too, were from Sacramento and knew the places and people intimately. 'Lady Bird' sells out her home to look 10% cooler to a stranger she just met. It's inevitable, perhaps, to deny your roots. It's about ﬁnding a larger universal truth behind what are so-called small lives. 'Lady Bird' denies where she's from, yes, but she also declares her love. We're granted the opportunity for grace, and we need love to accept it. It's difcult to register the depths of your love when you're sixteen and quite sure that life is happening somewhere else. None of the events in the ﬁlm literally happened, but there's a core of truth that's connected to a feeling of home and childhood and departure.
The ﬁlm recognizes the riches of your life, understanding how much you've, not how little you've. In a hyper-capitalist society where there are have and have-nots, it’s difcult to connect with the feeling of enough, but it's part of her journey. Girls have it much rougher than boys when it comes to connecting their self-worth to their family’s ﬁnancial situation. Boys have the same pressure, but there's less status conferred by things, and they always have the escape route of sports. If you're good at sports, you're safe. The culture of girls centered around how much money your shoes cost and how fancy your car was. Part of being a teenage girl is wearing your money by the brands on your clothes. You want people to know how much you spent on what you owned. It's something that 'Lady Bird' both ﬁnds incredibly distasteful but also envies. There's nowhere to go but forward, as you can never run backwards into childhood. You can just express your thanks and put one foot in front of the other into your new life.