My friend and co-blogger Tanya and I went to see Lady Bird, a movie directed by Greta Gerwig, this past weekend at the Enzian. Afterwards, we had thoughts. Some of them (including spoilers) follow.
But what is Lady Bird? In short, it’s the story of a young woman’s relationship with her mother during a year of transition between high school and college. The story is set in Sacramento and deeply embedded within the politics of the city, especially economic and racial ones. It was also great, awkward, fun.
Here’s our post-movie discussion.
Tanya: First, I feel like I was a weird demographic for Lady Bird. It felt like a movie aimed at either someone 15 years older or 15 years younger — maybe the Lena Dunham crowd. Ultimately, the person that I felt for was Lady Bird’s mom, and I am pretty sure that the filmmaker Greta Gerwig must’ve made this as a love story to her mom. It was wonderful to see the hidden paean to a woman who held it all together while yet being an intensely grumpy lady. It was wonderful to see two humans say so many of the wrong things to each other out of love. There is a little of this drawing of lines between in-group white liberal arts college aspirational girl and everyone else. Right at the beginning, there’s “Don’t be Republican,” which got a lot of laughs, but nailed the demographic who would see this movie. There was also, slightly further on, “I wish your mom HAD aborted you,” which really painted Lady Bird as a thoughtless little s@#% even while also being funny to the crowd who would understand this kind of irreverent humor. But it also ended with a moment of faith.
Jen: I felt like the demographic was actually kind of broad – there was a little bit of something for everyone in this film which was one of the reasons I liked it so much. I agree that Gerwig created a paean and I have no idea how personal the story was for her (meaning how much of it was informed by her personal life, I’ve read nothing about it!) but I like to imagine it was definitely an apology of sorts. I just glanced at IMDB and her mother was a nurse and her father was a financial planner/computer programmer and she grew up in Sacramento. I’m guessing it’s a hell of a lot more autobiographical than not!
Tanya: I guess that the trick of playing a character like Lady Bird is showing how incredibly insensitive she can be while yet drawing you in to observe her journey in a sympathetic way. I was probably a similar little jerk as a teen (I remember in great detail every insensitive thing I’ve ever said, probably), but at the same time, that moment was a little too jarring for me. I’ll circle back to guessing that there is a target demographic for this movie, and it firmly stuck me into the “not you” category.
Jen: LadyBird’s insensitivity – In a weird way I really appreciated how deeply insensitive LadyBird was (and I think this is related to your dislilke of her making a racist comment about Miguel, and about her privileged attitude). She is coarse with everyone who cares about her; she makes thoughtless jokes about her economic status that hurt her parents, and tells her clearly overweight friend (who no doubt has to put up with all kinds of shit, especially considering how her mother looks like a bikini model) how she wants to lose weight. I think it was indicative of the deep impression her mother, who ALSO makes such comments at LadyBird in a constant stream of ‘constructive criticism’, had made on her growing up. The first time we saw her really putting someone else’s needs above her own was when she held Danny and simply let him cry himself out on her shoulder. Even getting Julee to go to prom wasn’t entirely selfless – LadyBird wanted to go anyway. So with that in mind I’m not entirely sure we’re supposed to like her unreservedly: she’s a challenging character who at times pushes the audience away and then pulls them back in, and the brilliant thing is that two different people watching can feel that push/pull at completely different times because there is so much character development.
Tanya: Gerwig provided enough context from other people, like Lady Bird’s BFF, to show that she was well aware that her main character was a whiny little s@#%. Lady Bird lived in a house; her BFF did not. Lady Bird was skinny and had a date to the prom; her BFF did not, and spent the first part of that night crying on her couch. Lady Bird was able to fake her way into friendship with this one rich girl, and then into rich musician’s bed; her BFF did not. Good perspective, all provided by the filmmaker who knew what she was doing.
With Friends Like These…
Jen: [I disliked the archetype of] The Gay Kid – only because I felt like his presence was a bit rote; it felt like someone had read the script, then said ‘oh wait we don’t have a gay kid!’ and went back and pasted him in. However, the genuine earnestness in his coming out scene was so moving I really can’t include him as a dislike.
Tanya: I did appreciate that the central relationship drama of the movie was between a girl and her mom, and not a girl and boy #1 (gay) or boy #2 (spoiled emo musician). And I loved the realistic teenaged boy sex that lasted about 30 seconds.
Jen: Teenagers – I’m not around teenagers enough to know how accurate this portrayal is, but I thought the archetypes on display were perfect. The Popular Girl, the weird smart girl, the emo musician (especially how he’s depicted reading Zinn and yet walks away from it with a breathtakingly inaccurate understanding of how to remedy wealth disparity), the closeted kid… they were all so delightfully apt without being too much!
I kind of hate when teenagers in these types of movies have a fight or falling out and then sit down and talk about their problems like they’re two 35-year-olds hashing out a divorce (Please see: the problems between Lucas and Maxx in Stranger Things 2). I appreciated that this movie never did that and the teenagers all screamed and acted shitty and then hid from their bad behavior until they had both sort of forgotten or at least were ready to communicate again.
Tanya: We see the last of emo musician when he fades out of her life on prom night, driving away from her after dropping her off at Julee’s house. I kind of like this, that having a resolution with him wasn’t the point of her story. She figured it out the second they had bad sex and she realized he was a thoughtless liar about it. It was perfectly fine to never have her break up with him after that.
Jen: I really liked how some of the shots were framed. Like when LadyBird encounters Danny in the grocery store, he’s clearly in the middle of something with his family, but the camera, acting as a proxy for LadyBird’s superfocused attentions on him, barely acknowledges this in the least. Just like her.
Tanya: OK the college guy who kisses her after he insults her music — it’s such a tiny, forgettable role, but it also felt like the ultimate college experience rolled up into one night. Here’s where my lack of understanding of technical matters comes into play — those fascinating quick cuts between scenes seems to really speed the story along so that it’s a compacted narrative, summing up a feeling (“oh god I’m far from home and I miss mom”) rather than being ploddingly chronological. I feel like it was well done, but I can’t really pinpoint how or why.
Tanya: As a person who is not all white, I found it hard to forgive Lady Bird her casual racism about her brother named Miguel, who she implied only got into Berkeley because of his race. That moment in the movie was supposed to be a cute “wish we could say these things nowadays but we’re too PC” moment, but it fell flat for me, and I wanted to smack her. On the other hand,
Jen: Miguel’s presence is never explained. He’s just LadyBird’s brother, with no explanation. I liked that. And he and Shelly’s relationship seemed actually well presented. I liked how he was not hesitant to point out when LadyBird was acting like a spoiled brat, either.
Tanya: How heartbreaking was the scene when Mr. McPherson went to the job interview and you could see him visibly tamp down his impatience at the gauche youngster who had clearly already made up his mind about the guy based on age? And then seeing Miguel show up for the interview and knowing that he’d get the job? That was a pretty cutting commentary on Sacramento/California/2000s culture, and one that I feel is still relevant.
Tanya: My favorite moment with Shelly was when she gave Lady Bird her first clove, and told her that (1) her mom had an incredibly warm heart and (2) when you lick your lips you taste the sweetness of the cloves. She provided yet another moment of perspective that I appreciated, and was one more rich thread that wove around the complicated narrative of Mrs. McPherson’s life.
Jen: The Parents – I absolutely loved LadyBird’s parents. I thought their dynamic was great, especially how the father acted as buffer between LadyBird and her mother. You could see that Miguel was following in his footsteps. I loved how Mrs. McPherson was deeply interested in the lives of her coworkers and tenants of her background: how even the Goodwill employee wasn’t below her notice. And how this almost pathological interest and acceptance of other people didn’t translate to her daughter. The fitting room scene was my favorite example of this.
Tanya: I loved that this movie had no ending, really. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mom never resolves for us, and honestly, it never does for anyone in real life either.
Jen: I wasn’t positive what LadyBird’s mother’s profession was. I thought she was a nurse at first, and so I was confused when the theater teacher went to see her – I thought he was dying of cancer and that was why he broke down crying in group. It wasn’t until she stated her profession later that I understood she worked in a psychiatric facility.
Tanya: I wanted the drama teacher’s story arc to be resolved somehow too, and also had that “Ohhh, that’s what she does,” moment when I realized she was a psychiatric worker. Made more sense that she could support a family of five in Sacramento in that position.
So that was two women discussing Ladybird! Thanks so much for reading and if you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a great holiday!