Lady Bird (2017)

Kimberly and Jane embrace Lady Bird, a coming of age story about a girl who – finally – is focused on her own future, not being with a guy, but open a question, “Does the ending fit the girl, the Lady Bird we’ve come to know in the film?”  

 I wanted to like this movie about a girl coming of age written and directed by a woman, Greta Gerwig and did 97% of the way through. Lady Bird is a strong-minded teen who, despite her mother’s constant negativity and relentless martyrdom, strives to reach her dreams to go to college against great odds. Her dad is out of a job. The family, on her mother’s job, supports two adopted siblings. Her grades aren’t great. Her mother sees only herself in her daughter, a young woman who is going to have to make do in the same, nose-to-the-grindstone fashion she herself did. Lady Bird wants to break out, be more than her circumstances portend.

 Yes, and the point was made early on that Lady Bird would have nothing of her mother’s gloom. She named herself Lady Bird to establish her own claim on independence. She leaps out of a moving car when her mother’s tirades become too much to bear. She is constantly making moves to flee her mother’s brand of “woe is me” pathology even as she has to live knee deep within it and her mother’s daily reminders of how much the family has to sacrifice, how much the family does not have what others have, and never will. Lady Bird is fed messages that she shouldn’t dream, yet she continues to dream and act upon her dreams in the rebellious way of a teenager.

 Wasn’t that a wild moment when she opened the car door and fell out while the car was moving? I admit to believing that moment of her deliberately ejecting herself from her mother’s car was a sign of nothing but good things to come for Lady Bird. No matter the consequences, she was going where she wanted to go. And there is another moment in the film that I thought was juxtaposing a big difference between Lady Bird and her mom. When the two of them spend a day doing the mother’s self-described “favorite Sunday pastime” of visiting open houses and pretending they are potential buyers so that they can imagine themselves living in these grand, unattainable homes, Lady Bird is caught up in her mother’s envy. Only the mother’s envy feeds a sense of hopeless bitterness while for Lady Bird, envy is like a fuel feeding her dreams. Unlike her mother, she uses this envy to her advantage. Her dreams infuse her with ambition and provide hope for a better future.

 Yes, envy is what drives Lady Bird originally. Her journey through the film is all about striving to get the things that her mother has assured her she can never have from their lowly, cemented lot in life. But at this point in her reach for self-individuation, I see her efforts more about proving herself as opposed to her mother, than in really understanding or striving for what she really needs to feed her authentic self. She lies about where she lives to impress the popular girl who she is so eager to befriend (almost losing her genuine best friend in the process), she eschews any fondness for her hometown in lieu of dreaming of grass-is-always-greener places, she wants the hot guy in class so bad, she gives up her virginity to him even though he couldn’t be more blasé than a wet noodle towards her. She does manage to finally come around at the end, before heading off to New York, making amends to her original friend. She’s played the game of proving to herself that she can attain things, that she is an individual with a life born of her own actions, and has come to the resolution that no matter who she is, she will never be able to fully please her mother. As we see her leave to New York, we are hopeful, even though her mother can’t even say good-bye.

 I think you’re already seeing things that I overlooked until I couldn’t make sense of the end of the movie. Another interesting moment comes when Lady Bird leaves for New York. In her mother’s bitterness of being left behind, she is frozen at the very moment Lady Bird flies. But you’re beginning to lift a point here that I don’t want to lose. Lady Bird is focused on having, not working for what she wants. I think she’s fallen prey to the Madison Ave. syndrome. If I wear it, I’m it.

 As hard as it is to leave without the validation of a goodbye from her mom, Lady Bird still does.

 That’s true. Everything made sense in the film up to this point. Next, I expected to see her looking up, a bit daunted by New York skyscrapers and scared frozen herself when she really has to sit in a college class. But the moment she gets to New York, letters from mom and remembering the streets of Sacramento rouse nostalgia for home. Then Lady Bird lies about where she is from, hooks up with a guy she doesn’t know and gets so drunk, she passes out and ends up in the ER. Confusing. So I ask myself, what’s the deal? Is Lady Bird doing in New York what she did in Sacramento, being an oppositional bad girl only in a new context – challenging a guy she’s just met about his belief in god, giving up her new name for her God-given one, drinking herself into a stupor, feeling ashamed and going to church and then, doing what she would never do at home, calling her (“I told you so”) mom for forgiveness? Is she sacrificing herself to her mother’s martyrdom? I fully expected to see her get on the next plane back to Sacramento.

 I had a very different interpretation of the end. I felt it was a centering moment for Lady Bird’s new life as an adult. When she lived in Sacramento with her mom, her mother’s bile was so ever-present and consistent, that Lady Bird had to make bold moves to stake a claim on her own independence—like renaming herself, hating her hometown, etc. But now she was on her own and didn’t need the faux-name anymore because she had already flown. The name was just the totem to get her there, and now that she was there, she could lay it to rest. Then, she ends up having this humbling experience right out of the gate that allows her to perhaps have a bit of compassion for her mother and her mother’s concerns. Yes, she screws up the first time on her feet, yes, she perhaps gains a little empathy that although her mother is truly brutal, and there is an underlying real care. I see this event as a bridge to her new life, a stumble and get up and wipe yourself off, and a softening toward her mother that allows her to go on without anything more to prove beyond living her own life. Knowing her mother’s feeling through the letters her father patched back together and sent her assuaged this process as well. She no longer has to vehemently oppose her mother or her mother’s mantras and she can integrate a fondness toward her hometown into her being now because it is no longer a place she is desperately trying to flee.

 It is a bit of a testimony to the emptiness of her oppositional stance.

 Because I was baffled by our two polar feelings toward the ending, I searched online and found these words about the film from Greta, which sum up what I was thinking as well. “I really wanted to make a movie that was a reflection on home and what does home mean, and how does leaving home define what it is for you and your love for it. I felt like it was a love letter to Sacramento, and I felt like, what better way to make a love letter than through somebody who wants to get out, and then realizes that they loved it?” The horribleness of her mother disallowed Lady Bird’s love to shine through, and I think perhaps might lead viewers to the same kind of confusion as you because instead of seeing Greta’s point, you are thinking the phone call at the end signified a buckling in toward the mother.

 Interesting. And I can see the filmmaker’s intent but I think the girl, taken aback (maybe literally) by being her own and no mom behind her, might have been trying on a new life in New York a little like she tried on dresses and pretended to live in a fairy tale blue house at home. Ha, well, maybe she will end up back in Sacramento loving it after discovering the big city isn’t what she thought it was. All the good stuff is at home? The mother, after all, is a hard-working survivor with heart and, perhaps, with her daughter’s empathy, the two will find a new day together? As for me, after Lady Bird leaves the message of empathy for her mother, I could only imagine what her mother would say next, which of course would be, “I told you so.” I really came away from that call thinking she’s going to give up her dream, abandon her snarky spirit and think that all the things her mother ever said about her were right.

 And I came away from that call thinking, Lady Bird’s thinking, “I’ve fallen down and fucked up and have more compassion toward you for your fears and consideration and now I can move on with my life in a non-co-dependent and reactionary way.”

 I needed evidence to that. Maybe a text from mom saying, “get to work, honey.”

 Yeah, it didn’t give us that, just a black frame. Yet, I don’t think a validation text from her mother was needed anymore at this point.

 I really think Greta Gerwig missed her ending. But as my filmmaker son likes to say, ‘If you want a different movie, make one yourself.’

4 thoughts on “Lady Bird (2017)”

    1. Thank you for reading Diana. Will look forward to your comments after seeing the film. Please make sure to come back and give us your perspective.

  1. I haven’t seen this film but gleaning what I can from your discussion, I expect my reaction to the ending would be similar to Jane’s. It just doesn’t seem realistic that a phone call to her mother after such a short time and after a few missteps is a good omen. It feels more like a move back to the old family dynamic and not bravely striking out into the world on her own terms. Sorry Sacramento, and Greta, but I’ve yet to know anyone with a strong reason to escape a dysfunctional family dynamic who feels love or sentiment for the town/city in which she lived out this dynamic but then escaped and left all of it behind. No matter how wonderful the city is .

    But the discussion between you two was great and the differing views interesting. Now I need to watch it to see if my comments actually make any sense.

    1. Thank you for reading Sharon. Will look forward to your comments after seeing the film. Please make sure to come back and give us your perspective.

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