'Lady Bird' portrays a tense and heartbreakingly realistic mother-daughter relationship

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut “Lady Bird” was released this month to critical acclaim. The film stars Saoirse Ronan as the titular character Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a teenager caught between the naivete and maturity that defines adolescence.

Laurie Metcalf plays Lady Bird’s mother, Marion McPherson, and the tumultuous yet loving mother-daughter relationship depicted between the two is the main conflict of the film. Other notable actors in the film include Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s father, Lucas Hedges as one of Lady Bird’s love interests and Timothée Chalamet as another of Lady Bird’s love interests.

The film is set up as a classic coming-of-age story. It’s the year 2002 and Lady Bird is in her senior year of high school. She’s trying to juggle all of the typical adolescent’s problems, from friendship to love to college to sex to family. Like many young female protagonists of independent coming-of-age cinema, Lady Bird is somewhat of a headstrong oddball, which is shown outwardly by her pink hair and eclectic style.

However, there’s much more to “Lady Bird” than the typical independent coming-of-age story. Lady Bird is not alternative or different by choice. She is from the “wrong side of the tracks,” both figuratively and literally, as the character Danny (Lucas Hedges) points out when he says, “Lady Bird always said she lived on the wrong side of the tracks, but I always thought that was like a metaphor. But there are actual train tracks.”

This very real sense of being “different” is due mainly to Lady Bird’s family’s financial struggles. This monetary tension and the fear of never being able to provide enough—whether it be money, material things or, most importantly, love—is a central theme in the film.

This financial struggle contributes to the main conflict between Lady Bird and her mother, two women with “strong personalities,” as Lady Bird’s father Larry (Tracy Letts) describes them. It’s clear from the very first scene of the film that there’s extreme tension in this mother-daughter relationship.

In the opening scene, Lady Bird and her mother discuss Lady Bird’s hopes to go to the East Coast for college. Her mother responds, “You wouldn’t get into those schools anyway...You should just go to City College, you know, with your work ethic, just go to City College, and then to jail, and then maybe back to City College.” It’s a funny exchange, except it isn’t.

Lady Bird’s mother is constantly belittling her daughter in this way, creating a combative relationship between the two. In another scene, while Marion has no problem saying that she loves Lady Bird, she can’t bring herself to say that she actually likes her daughter. The bitterness isn’t one-sided, either: there are plenty of scenes in which Lady Bird acts like a stereotypical angsty teen toward her mother.

However, it’s also clear that deep down, there’s a vast amount of love between Lady Bird and Marion. As the film is from her perspective, the audience can gather that Lady Bird loves her mother, but it’s more difficult to discern Marion’s feelings toward Lady Bird. Throughout the film, it becomes evident that Marion loves Lady Bird but is unable to express this. This is most clearly shown in a scene in which Marion tries to write Lady Bird a letter before she goes off to college but is unable to put her feelings into words.

The fact that this extremely complicated relationship was able to come across so clearly on screen is an incredible feat. Not only is this due to the beautifully realistic acting, but it’s also owed to the ingenious screenplay written by Greta Gerwig. “Lady Bird” contained true and natural dialogue that was able to deal with the troubles of adolescence and familial relationships without falling into worn-out cliches.

Greta Gerwig wrote most of the semi-autobiographical screenplay in 2013 and 2014. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gerwig opened up about where she drew inspiration from: "The core of that relationship is very close to me... And it's not because that was how my mom and I were, because Laurie's character (Marion) is nothing like my mother. But the core of it felt like this deep love and sense of conflict that comes out of the fact that you’re essentially the same person.”

Overall, “Lady Bird” adds a breath of fresh air to the coming-of-age genre’s repertoire. Everything in the film, from the acting to the writing, is perfectly imperfect and unquestionably authentic.

Rating: 5/5


Lucie Turkel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at lucie.turkel@uconn.edu.