It is my belief that “Coming-of-age” stories depend entirely on what time period they are set in. Who we are and how we are shaped varies wildly depending on where and when we grow up. While we’ve all grown up and been through growing pains and learned important lessons along the way, we’ve all needed to learn different lessons and experience individual pains. So a lesson about finding courage in friends like in “Stand By Me” has a different effect than a more modern tale like “Boyhood” or “Moonlight.”
At the same time, if the viewer grew up around the same time period as the film, that will have a different effect also. I bring this up because I saw “Lady Bird” surrounded mostly by people who were double or triple my age, and my reaction to this film was vastly different from anyone else in the theater. The room was mostly quiet for the entire run time, except for my constant laughter and snickering at the relatable teen angst in a desperate search for identity in only ways that kids from the 2000s could understand.
From the opening scene, as our titular Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) literally throws herself out of the car so she can stop listening to her nagging mother (Laurie Metcalf), I was pulled in by this films’ fierce independence and witty writing and dialogue. While “Lady Bird” is, more or less, a teen drama about our main character trying to find her place in the world and what she wants to do with her life, it is told in a way that doesn’t feel artificial or sugar-coated, giving us raw and honest moments of how life can be thrilling, terrible, but always worth living.
The film is set in Sacramento shortly after 9/11, when anyone in their teens or younger was looking for something to hold onto, hoping that they could still be themselves in a world that didn’t seem so safe anymore. Christine, who prefers to be called Lady Bird, is about to graduate from high school, and refuses to stay in Sacramento after she graduates even though her mother insists that the best she’ll be able to achieve is going to a city college nearby. She sends in applications to many east coast art colleges hoping one day she will be able to make a college essay writing service, even though her grades are not great and she doesn’t know what she wants to study.
Lady Bird is a passionate, opinionated, fiery individual that is unsure what she wants to do with her life. She’s surrounded by people who tell her that she needs a goal or something to strive for, but those same people don’t seem to practice what they preach. She ends up doing a lot of things that she doesn’t fully understand, like say terrible things about where she lives, all in a desperate teenage attempt to find out more about herself. More than anything, she wants her own identity that is unique and beauty, just like she believes she is.
The struggle comes from Lady Bird being almost exactly like her mother, who is just as fierce and vocal as she is. They of course spend most of their time fighting, but only because they’re so much alike and they’re both too stubborn to admit it. It’s hard to create your own identity when someone exactly like you is trying to hold you back. Their relationship is as tumultuous and heated as it is beautifully refreshing and often hilarious.
And those are the main words I would use to describe “Lady Bird” – refreshing and hilarious. The dialogue feels natural for an angsty teenager trying to be artsy and mostly failing at it, leading to some of the best comedic lines of the entire year. The whole film feels honest to its time and setting without sacrificing its charm and sense of humor. When there are big life changing moments, they take the time to let those scenes sink in and settle, whether they are good or bad. The acting, especially from Soairse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, reflects this attitude and makes these moments feel real and, for lack of a better term, human.
Overall, “Lady Bird” is a phenomenal coming-of-age tale that perfectly balances quiet honesty with heartfelt comedy. It encapsulates the troubles, fears, and wonders of growing up in a Post-9/11 world and what it meant to strive for an identity at the time. Everything about this film feels natural and genuine, from the writing and dialogue to its performances. If you grew up around the same time or ever tried desperately to be your own person, then you’ll find at least something relatable about this movie.
Final Grade: A