Lady Bird: Another (Good) Coming-of-Age Movie (Spoilers)
by Cristian Trandafir
“Lady Bird” is an unusual nickname for typically rebellious high school senior, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). She explains that it’s her given name in the movie: “Given to me, by me.” She is the archetype of the sheltered teen; having intrusive (yet loving) parents trying to force their way of life onto her, having difficulty sticking with her true friends, choosing the appeal of the popular group, relentlessly trying to fight back against society’s control over her identity by applying to colleges outside of the state, making up her own nickname, and struggling to make her own decisions in life. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, the movie is ultimately a dramatic comedy, which paints various life-changing moments in their most positive and humorous light, while also depicting the lasting permanent consequences of them.
Christine is introduced in the same scene as her mother (Laurie Metcalf). They are riding along in a car and sharing an emotional moment, as tears stream down their faces while a song plays on the radio in the background. The bonding is quickly ruined, however, as the two begin bickering and raising their voices at each other. It eventually ends with Christine jumping out of the car in search of temporary relief away from her mom. The film begins filling archetypes in this very first scene, as Christine is the angsty teen, finding that no one in life, especially not her parents, understand who she is and what she wants in the world. Her mother consequently fills the middle-class mom archetype, as she seeks what’s best for her daughter by imposing her own values contrary to Christine’s, and ultimately playing the role of both protagonist and antagonist in the movie by inadvertently bringing up new problems for Christine to face alongside her parental aid.
Most of the movie follows Christine through her daily school life. She and Julie (Beanie Feldstein), her best childhood friend, join the theater club at their Catholic high school. The tropes begin to pile up as she experiences her first crush on Danny (Lucas Hedges), a member of the theater crew. She begins disobeying her family’s orders and spends Thanksgiving eating with Danny’s family instead. They break up because Danny cheats on her with a boy from school, yet Christine continues her dedication to disobey her family’s orders and gets a job at a coffee shop, where she meets Kyle (Timothée Chalamet). Again, Christine falls into the trope of pushing her old friends aside to fit in with the popular group, starts dating Kyle, and befriends the most popular girl in school, Jenna (Odeya Rush). At this point, the disasters begin piling up like in any other stereotypical high school drama movie. Christine helps Jenna vandalize a nun’s car, Danny expresses his difficulty coming out as gay to Christine due to the Catholic school environment, Kyle lies to Christine in order to convince her to have sex with him, her relationship with Jenna comes to an end, and her father loses his job. Although the conflicts are predictable, the acting is emotional and various solutions are explored by Christine. She reacts in a realistic way, rather than falling into the trope of helpless high school girl, which saves most of the cliche plot development in these scenes.
The second half of the movie changes the focus onto Christine’s family’s financial class. Due to her father’s unemployment, her mother demands that Christine apply only to nearby colleges. Christine, of course, reacts accordingly with the angsty teen stereotype and instead applies primarily to out-of-state universities. She is rejected from all of them, except for a New York university where she is wait-listed. The film briefly revisits teenage life, with Julie and Christine patching up their friendship and going to prom together. Back at home, Christine’s mother finds out about Christine’s applications to out-of-state universities, and reacts stereotypically by becoming cold and distant from her daughter rather than having a regular family discussion. Christine turns 18, and she buys a pack of cigarettes and an adult magazine from a store. This part of the movie is filled with awkwardness, as Christine seeks everything her parents disallowed her in order to feel like an 18 year old and makes her own decisions, no matter how pointless or detrimental to her life they may be.
The movie wraps up with two heartfelt scenes that fit in a little too much with the stereotypical “parental drama resolution” scenes in other movies. After her mother drops off Christine at the airport, she turns back around when driving home to wish her luck. Unfortunately for her, the plane takes off in the distance, but she is still elated to have forgiven her daughter. In New York, Christine drinks at a college party and is hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. She watches a church service from her hospital room and decides to call home and apologize to her mother. The movie finishes on a happy, but ambiguous note.
The cliche ending only served to make the movie more indistinguishable from other dramatic comedies. “Happy ever after” was not a good finish for a movie that had the protagonist overcoming her previous teenage problems by realistic means. The lack of introspection and dialogue from the mother and Christine made the ending stale and many of the movie’s good scenes were dependent on the acting. While moviegoers will be pleasantly surprised at the way “Lady Bird” falls into tropes, yet remains a watchable movie, those looking for a good ending may want to skip the theater visit.