Director: Greta Gerwig
Writer: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Is Lady Bird Any Good?
When Lady Bird came out, it was to great anticipation. Greta Gerwig had already made a big name for herself in the world of indie films as an actor, delivering memorable performances in early mumblecore movies, before moving more into the mainstream with 20th Century Women and Jackie. She also had a couple of writing successes under her belt with the well-received Frances Ha and Mistress America.
Lady Bird gives our first look at what Greta Gerwig is like at the helm of a film, flying solo on the writing and direction, and what comes out is a pleasant surprise. It is a film that retains the indie sensibilities yet still plays broadly, being a movie that feels far more universally relatable and enjoyable than projects that she previously worked on.
On the surface, it feels like a story we’ve heard many times before. A young girl who lives in a small town and dreams of bigger things is followed through a transitionary period in her teenage years. However it is far more nuanced than that and the genius lay in how Gerwig’s writing explodes this subject in a way that manages to feel new and original. Her heroine is someone that regularly makes mistakes and is very flawed, but ultimately always captures our imagination through her youthful determination and we forgive her pretensions and her flaws as they are only a reflection of one’s we all tend to have at that age.
Her main conflicts are with her family, friends and boyfriends, but once again, no matter how small of a character they are, these are all in someway well-meaning, but also inherently flawed. We’re left with a brilliantly intricate situation where, when Lady Bird finally moves away to college, we don’t necessarily know if it is for the best - but far more than an average coming-of-age drama - we see a character who has grown because of it.
"Money is not life's report card. Being successful doesn't mean anything in and of itself. It just means that you're successful. But that doesn't mean that you're happy."
Sacramento in Lady Bird
For many who live outside of the US, Sacramento may be a city name that barely registers in the global consciousness. Despite being only the sixth largest city in the state, far dwarved in notability by the larger counterparts of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Sacremento is actually the state capital.
The city was home to writer and director Greta Gerwig growing up, and with her inclusion of it in the movie, you can see the common idea of ‘write what you know’ having led her to a semi-autobiographical movie. The city’s inclusion however is ideal, as it gives Lady Bird something she wants to escape. Sure, to an outside viewer, the sunny, leafy and diverse town may seem quite idyllic, but to an ambitious and angry teenager, anything that isn’t the very best is just a huge disappointment. It also reflects our often irrational hatred we often have as teenagers of where we grew up - no matter how good or bad it is, we’ve spent a lifetime there and with all its baggage our hometowns seem nothing compared to the potential excitement that could lay elsewhere.
When Lady Bird finally moves from home, interestingly it is not just out to San Francisco or Los Angeles, but entirely the other side of the country in New York. It is only when she’s there and sees a Catholic Church which reminds her of her home life, that perhaps she has a level of acceptance that now she has escaped, perhaps home wasn’t so bad after all.
The Broken Arm in Lady Bird
If you have seen Lady Bird, or even have just seen the trailer, you’ll know that Christine, the main character spends a lot of her time her arm in a cast. This happens after she breaks it in the opening scene of the movie when, after a peaceful car ride home enjoying an audio book of The Grapes of Wrath, her and her mother begin to argue about Christine leaving Sacramento, after which she very abruptly opens the door and jumps out the car.
This serves as a brilliant opening for the film, helping to set the tone for the remainder. We instantly understand that this is not going to be your average coming-of-age story and that Greta Gerwig is going to shock us and tickle us with her brilliant and often dead pan writing. It also makes it clear that we’re going to get an incredible leading performance by Saoirse Ronan, and also supporting performance by Laurie Metcalf as she hilariously reacts to her daughter’s actions. Most importantly it tells us more about her teenage outlook in that split second, than many movies manage to deliver through an entire script. Before jumping out of the car she states that “I wish I could live through something” - a declaration which is a reflection of her own teenage desperation to grow up and move on.
Lady Bird's Plot Explained
The film follows Christine (aka Lady Bird), a student at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, who longs to escape her financially struggling family to a prestigious college in a vibrant city. During the film we see her join a school theatre club, get her first and second significant boyfriends, have her eighteenth birthday and move to New York for college. Nothing that big really happens, but it is instead in the plethora of lots of significant minor things happen that entirely shape Christine’s outlook, friendships, relationships and aspirations.
Throughout the movie we see her ditch her family on thanksgiving to go round her boyfriend Danny’s house, drops out of the theatre program and replaces her best friend Julie with the cooler Jenna who she lies to about her family’s address to make them seem more affluent, and apply for a range of East Coast colleges in defiance of her mother saying they can’t afford it. Despite these sounding like selfish actions, we still develop a huge amount of sympathy for her, as it is from a point of naivety and teenage stupidity rather than maliciousness.
Her big turning point is when Jenna and Kyle decide to skip prom for a party - something which she had been massively excited for. It is a time when she realises the things that are truly important to her and what might be more superficial, forcing her to make amends with Julie so they can go to prom together.
Lady Bird Budget & Box Office
Unlike many of the other big name films to come out so far this year, Lady Bird had a fairly small budget. Made for only $10 million, it is on the lower end in terms of the best picture nominees at this year’s Oscars. However despite its indie sensibilities, it was not the cheapest, with both Get Out costing only $4.5 million and Call Me By Your Name coming in at almost a third of the price of Lady Bird at $3.5 million.
Despite its fairly small budget, Lady Bird has been a huge financial success, grossing over $48 million in the United States and Canada, as well as an additional $11 million overseas so far. This has been a slow build however, since its initial limited release, where it grossed just over $364,000, before expanding the following weeks. When it received an official wide release towards the end of November, it made $4 million in its opening weekend, and even managed to increase this and sneak up the box office charts in following weeks.
"I hate California, I want to go to the east coast. I want to go where culture is like, New York, or Connecticut or New Hampshire."
Lady Bird Award Wins & Nominations
Lady Bird has been one of the most universally well-received films of the year, having been the first ever film to reach 196 reviews on the site, all of which were positive, beating the previous record held by Toy Story 2. The film did not only recieve a good reception by fans and critics though, but also during awards season.
Lady Bird ended up winning Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Best Actress - Musical or Comedy, as well as eight nominations at the Critics Choice Awards. It also was nominated for a range of Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as being selected for the American Film Institute's Top Ten Movies of the Year. Despite winning no awards, it was also nominated at the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director.
Kyle's Band & Song in Lady Bird
The character of Kyle as well as his band offer some of the most memorable moments of the film. For those who were teenagers around the same time, the cool yet pretentious, floppy-haired guy in an indie band is instantly recognisable. We can see why Lady Bird is attracted to him, but as a character that goes to a party to read a book alone outside and doesn’t have a phone due to conspiracy theories, we are completely unsurprised when he turns out to be a bit of a dick.
The music for his band is written by Adam Brock, who does a perfect job of creating a song which is both great, but also feels like the kind of thing that a good local band could have put out at the time. Brock orchestrated it to be stripped back, with very little production and using only a few instruments, giving it a raw, live sound, which he could then teach the actors to authentically mime as a convincing band.
Called ‘Fred Astaire’, the song’s lyrics also manage to match his cool, yet slightly pretentious teenage interest in high brow culture, focussing on the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whether this was intentional or not is hard to know, as Adam Brock states he essentially wrote the song in a rush overnight, but either way the result is perfect - being a brilliant sounding garagey teenage rejection of popular culture, evoking bands of the era like Weezer.
Kyle’s band’s name is also L’Enfance Nue - a similarly pretentious but also kind of cool name which was reportedly Timothee Chalamet’s idea and perhaps was inspired by the 1968 Maurice Pialat film of the same name. The direct translation - either naked childhood or naked children - also hints at the fine line between brilliance and mindless vulgarity.
"We're afraid that we will never escape our past. We're afraid of what the future will bring. We're afraid we won't be loved, we won't be liked. And we won't succeed."
Lady Bird's Ending
The ending of Lady Bird is the moment where it ensures that more than being remembered as a pulpy throwaway teen comedy, it becomes something far more special. Despite resolving her friendship with her friend Julie, she still ends up going to college with her and her mother not speaking. As her mother pulls up to the airport to drop her off, she then drives off, before having a change of heart and attempting to loop back again, only to get there too late. We experience the anguish that she has in trying to stick to her principals and her anger at Lady Bird’s decisions, but she also is contradicted by the love she has for her daughter.
Resolution finally comes when, in New York, Lady Bird receives a package of her mother’s never sent draft letters from her Dad. More than either of their actions it is the failure to properly communicate and empathise that causes their conflict, and these letters are the mother’s incomplete and difficult attempt to resolve that. After being drunkenly hospitalised, she passes a church and enters, before calling her mother to leave an inarticulate yet apologetic message. In this moment we see the anarchic teenage rejection of her small-town life subside slightly, to instead be replaced by a more adult sense of empathy and the need for communication.