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Lady Bird (2017) – Redefining adolescence

All movies about adolescence focus on the excesses: alcohol, drugs, parties, and sex.

During such a confusing phase in life, seeing that our personal experience is not portrayed in typical teenage movies – with cheerleaders bullying the girl with glasses, the athlete boyfriends dominating school, the nerds’ club doing the popular kids’ homework, theatre kids, band kids, and house parties that get out of control every week – gives the idea that we are not really living our teenage years. The truth is that this vision is extremely americanised and diminishing. Teenagers don’t belong only in four or five categories, but they all share one thing: the search for knowing who they are and what their purpose in the world is. Given this, Lady Bird comes like a fresh breeze.

The film begins with Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) asking her mother (Laurie Metcalf) if she looks like she’s from Sacramento, a small town in California, showing right away her lack of connection to her roots. This immediately leads to a fight about the teen’s future (and temperament, in some way) between the two of them, causing Lady Bird to throw herself off of a moving car. These first scenes settle the mother-daughter relationship’s precedents, their resemblances, and their main divergencies, from the very beginning. Greta Gerwig (director and screenwriter) adds that “They are the same height and the same haircut so that, when they’re in profile, there’s the idea that they are the flip sides from the same coin”, and, behind these strong personalities and fights, there is a lot of love (Film4, 2018).

A closer look may see some parallelisms between Lady Bird’s story and the director’s, but Gerwig guarantees that besides their artsy style and their hometown, they don’t have a lot of things in common. However, she can admit, in retrospect, that she was also ungrateful towards Sacramento (CBS Sunday Morning, 2018). So, the cinematography is filled with an almost accidental plenitude and beauty, as to try to “let things be as beautiful as they are and understand what’s good about them as they are” (Film4, 2018).

Throughout the film, Lady Bird joins the drama club, and meets Danny (Lucas Hedges), who’s from a rich catholic family, and whom she starts dating, leading to her first heartbreak. Then, she meets Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), who awakes another rebellious phase in Lady Bird. She starts making friends with the popular girl from school, ignoring her best friend, and lying about who she was so that she could fit in this new group. In the end, all these new experiences and lies were like a cold shower to Ronan’s character, bringing her only sadness and frustration.

Even though these small details may come across as secondary, the director wanted to highlight them because there are a lot of experiences that seem promising and that define adolescence who should be explored and captured, even if they don’t turn out to be successful. There are a lot of plots and in-betweens in life that are worth paying attention to, especially during this time, because they can later define what type of adult we are going to be. Gerwig carefully registered the beauty of these moments: “Everyone knows the big events, but what are the little things that lead you to the big event?” (Film4, 2018).

Then, prom comes and ends up being a transforming experience, in the sense that Lady Bird reconciles with a part of herself and with Julie, her best friend. However, even with this big event, the scene where the protagonist chooses the dress with her mother turns out to be the show-stealer. In an extremely emotional tone, but dissolved in the plot, they say the lines that sum up what is like to be a teenager:

[Lady Bird]

“I just want you to like me”


“Of course I love you”


“But do you like me?”


“I Want you to be the very best version of yourself as you can be.”

[Lady Bird]

“What if this is the best version?”

In the meantime, Lady Bird is accepted into Columbia University in New York, in what becomes another turning event in her life, to the point where she adopts her given name, Christine.

This ending is brilliant because in the beginning the young girl tries to distance herself from Sacramento and starts a fight with her mother, and in the end, she recognizes the beauty of her town in a heart-warming message she sends to her mother as an apology. Still, there is space for the viewers to imagine what might have happened before, but also what still could happen in Lady Bird’s life.

The experiences keep happening even after the screen turns black, or even when no one’s watching. There are still things to live for and that’s the message this masterpiece spreads, just like the possibility to make mistakes and evolve as a person - the main characteristics of this phase in life.

Bibliographic References:

CBS Sunday Morning (Director). (2018, janeiro 7). Greta Gerwig on «Lady Bird».

Film4 (Director). (2018, fevereiro 11). Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig talk Lady Bird | Film4 Interview Special.


About the author:

Marta Gil. 21 years old. Coimbra.

International Relations Student in University of Coimbra


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