Movie review: Lady Bird

The most realistic mother/daughter film you will ever see.

Lady Bird

Four of five stars.

Rated R. 93 minutes.

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig.

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein and Timothee Chalamet.

Now playing in NY and LA; will open in Tampa Bay Nov. 22.

click to enlarge MOTHER LOAD: Mothers and daughters are oil and water... and salt and pepper. - Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24
Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24
MOTHER LOAD: Mothers and daughters are oil and water... and salt and pepper.

Lady Bird is perhaps the most perfect mother-daughter movie ever.

If you're looking for Freaky Friday feel-good, Mermaids mushiness or Snatched sass, you've come to the wrong theater. Go out and tell them you meant to see Bad Mom's Christmas.

But if you've ever been an asshole teenage girl or lived with one, this is the movie you've been waiting for.

True story: I was an asshole teenager. To my mom, at least. I was my dad's precious friggin' angel, so much so I won't even drop the f-bomb I would normally drop here because I'm sure he's gonna read this. And I thought my mother was absolutely hideous, that she did and said things to me that were beyond awful. I spent most of my teenage years grounded. I wanted to go away to college to get away from this woman who couldn't seem to say anything nice. I didn't hate her, but I sure didn't want to be around her.

That was, of course, many years ago, and today, she's my best friend. But man, those teenage years were tough. And so we go to see movies like Snatched and we laugh like that could actually have been us, but we know that's not true. Odds are, if we got kidnapped together the kidnappers would shoot us when she tells me my hair looks better "brushed" (read: straightened) and I react... well, like a teenage daughter.

Now, Lady Bird? That could totally have been us. I think it may have been us, TBH. This is not your John Hughes mother-daughter film, nosirreebob. This is gritty, and endearing — and heartbreaking and poignant and, well, dead-on. , as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, and Laurie Metcalf as her mom knock the complicated imperfections of a mother-daughter relationship out of the teenage-hormone-and-menopausal-mom park.

Writer/director Greta Gerwig makes it clear they love each other: Lady Bird opens with the two of them leaving a motel (although we never learn why) and driving home, enjoying a John Steinbeck audiobook and crying. We might think, at this point, we're heading toward a sappy drama, but then they argue — mom Marion McPherson gets pretty critical of Lady Bird's academic prowess (or lack thereof) and Lady Bird throws herself out of a moving car.

Game on.

Watch the trailer 


Mothers and daughters? They're hard to depict accurately. Teenage girls have hormones coursing through them at the speed of goddamn light, and mothers — well, the moms simply want their daughters to be the best they can be. This often involves the moms devolving into an angry, crying mess of insults, and while I've to this day been unable to ascertain why, it's apparently a worldwide phenomenon, and director Greta Gerwig nails it, basing this film on her own experiences.

The film's memory-feel — from a cinematography standpoint, the colors have a flatness to them that allows for nuance in detail, like the blue house Lady Bird covets — adds to the ethereal dream-but-not-a-dream tone of the movie.

But to any one who's lived this, Lady Bird is not a dream. Certainly, mothers can relate to desperately wanting to bond with their daughters whilst still managing to steer her towards the right things, and daughters cringe when they remember saying horrid, hateful things to their mothers while also needing them  to say something — anything — nice. "Can't you tell me I look nice?" Lady Bird asks her mother. "Do you like me?" — to which her mother responds, "You want me to lie to you?" and "I love you... I want you to be the best version of you you can be."

The reality of this film trickles in between its poignancy: Jokes-that-aren't-jokes about the Catholic dances — we heard "six inches for the Holy Spirit" so often at my Catholic youth group dances it became a rote laugh — comingle with the pain you see when Marion learns Lady Bird tells people she lives on the wrong side of the tracks. Lady Bird's tenuous (and ultimately doomed) friendship with Jenna Walton (smartly played by Odeya Rush), who lives in the Sacramento equivalent of Clearwater's Carlouel yacht-club summer homes and truly doesn't understand why Lady Bird lies about where she lives paints a ragged juxtaposition to Lady Bird's sincere yet unbalanced friendship with Julie Steffans (Beanie Feldstein).

The hard parts of this movie to watch — the bitter, hurtful arguments and the way a teenage girl can pit one parent against the other — are bittersweet, and the film, while not without its flaws, does not disappoint in the ending, which — no spoilers here — ends much the same way my first weekend away at college ended: with understanding.

Men may not understand everything, not having lived through teenage girl-dom — my husband turned to me and asked, "Why does she need a new friend?", which is not something any teenage girl in the history of teenage girls would not innately understand, even 30 years later — and it's not without its faults. There are edits that seem sloppy, which makes sense when you realize the initial script was 300-plus pages and the finished film runs roughly 93 minutes. Why does the priest leave? Where are Lady Bird and her mother coming back from at the movie's start? What happens to Kyle's dad?

In all, though, the film shines as a testament to the hurt, love and friendship that can exist between a mother and a daughter.

Even if it may be all too real for some of us. 

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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