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Lady Bird, Take These Broken Wings and Learn To Fly


James Ao

Lady Bird, Take These Broken Wings and Learn To Fly 

Christine slams shut the passenger car door—after she gives her mother, Marion, a look of helplessness and anger—as Marion drives away from the airport. The sun flares on the camera lens as the audience watch Marion intimately. She got into a fight with Christine earlier, which left them in a state of not communicating. It seems that Marion wants to further exercise her grudge by not giving Christine a proper sendoff at the airport. “Parking is too expensive here,” that is the reason Marion gave to Christine before she drives off. The slow, sentimental piano starts to play as the father, Larry, and Christine becomes more distant from the blurred backseat window of the car. Marion drives away. The scene switches between Marion’s expression to the bending, intertwining road she’s driving on. As the piano continues to play, we watch Marion’s conspicuous sadness creeps in for not hugging her daughter goodbye. She is exposed to the camera. Finally, after Marion lets out somewhat of a regretful yet accomplishing smile, she decides to turn around and go back to where she’d left Christine. “There it is, hello,” she speaks softly as she parks and rushes out of the car. She hurries into the airport and quickly into the arms of her husband. Marion takes a couple deep breaths as she surrenders to the comfort of the hug. Although, those aren’t the arms she is hoping for, she wants to hug her daughter. As for Christine, she’d already lifted off to somewhere new, somewhere unknown.

It’s incredible that the film, Lady Bird, is the first film Greta Gerwig had solely written and directed. This film is a love letter Grewig has created—in her own unique, talented handwriting—to the relationships she had with the people and places when she was growing up in Sacramento. Lady Bird, which went on to win the Golden Globe for the best motion picture—musical or comedy in 2018, is a coming of age film. It follows the life of this senior in highschool, Christine McPherson, and her transition into college. The beginning of the film consists of Christine and Marion driving back home from a college-visiting trip and the movie ends with Christine finally in college. The plot isn’t very dramatic, it is the honest storytelling that makes this movie great. We’ve seen many similar coming of age films throughout the years but this one stands out as one of the most brutally honest yet beautiful stories. This movie focuses on its characters’ relationships between each other, the place they live in, and the struggle for their ideal world, the unavoidable reminder of their class status.  

The review for this film has been overwhelmingly positive. It even broke the record for generating more positive reviews on Rotten Tomato than Toy Story 2. A.O Scott from the New York Times even called Lady Bird “Big-Screen Perfection”. What makes this movie so exquisite is the characters’ multidimensional personality and their relationships to one another. Each character feels like it’s created by Gerwig with such precise care and attention. According to the Nun at Christine’s high school, attention and love can be the same thing. This movie is filled with love—although many times love don’t seem very obvious—and it challenges that love to come out into the spotlight with all of its imperfections and flaws. Christine’s relationship with Marion is not at all flowery, or even kind. They get into arguments very quickly and often. In the beginning of the film, we see the two of them listening to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in the car driving back home from the college trip. They are utterly devastated by the story, tears gushing out and snot hanging loose. The conversation quickly turns to Christine’s desire of having a more interesting life and the Marion’s parenting about how her life is already great. Conflict arises. The intensity of the scene continues to heat up as the dialogue progressively get more harsh and sharp. It seems like every word coming out of Christine’s mouth was an invitation for the mother to be more direct. Piercingly direct.  Marion goes from telling Christine that she never thinks for anyone else but herself, to calling her a “snob”, to her not being able to get into the colleges she wants, to her going to jail. It’s hard to believe the changes that took place from where they started. Finally, Christine has taken enough pounding from her mother, she opens the passenger car, jumping right out of the moving car as Marion screams at the top of her lungs in pure panic. That is our introduction to this duo! With the charismatic and engaging characters, we are invited on a journey to watch how this high school senior deal with her impossible yet loving mother and her inescapable reality.

We follow the narrative mostly through the perspective of Christine. We watch her grow and experience new things. In the words of Saoirse Ronan, who plays Christine, on Stephen Colbert’s talkshow “you’re watching a human being, just try these different characters on and see which one fits.” That trying on of characters is something so essential to the beauty of this film. Christine McPhereson lives in a middle class family in Sacramento. Her family is not at all rich but they wouldn’t be called poor either. They are in the line between comfortable middle class and struggling to be middle class. Larry(the father) has lost his job recently and Marion is a nurse who works double shifts. Stephanie Zacharek’s review of Lady Bird on The Time describes how those financial problems emerge and disrupt the McPherson family’s ideal world, especially for Christine. Zacharek points out a scene when Christine and Marion are shopping for groceries and Christine begs to buy a $3 magazine. Christine justifies her desire by stating that she’s had a bad week and Marion, filled with anxiety, says no. “This measly dream cost $3, and Christine’s mother won’t—can’t—let her have it” (Zacharek). From Christine’s point of view, these “straightforward, achievable desires” are now out of grasp because her family can barely afford groceries. That destruction of the world Christine imagines herself to be in must be incredibly hard to come to terms with. How can one go on telling their friends that they want to borrow a magazine to read because their family’s situation forbids them to do so?  It is very clear that Christine dreams to be rich. In this scene with her and her friend Julie, they are walking home from school when they encounter their favorite house in the neighborhood. It is a three stories, beautiful light blue house with an American flag hanging on the front door. Both of them dream about what they would do if they lived in that house. “I’d have my own bathroom,” says Julie, implying that she also lives in somewhat of a compact house, just like Christine. 

The desire of being rich adds shame to how Christine views her family. She asks her dad to drop her off a block away from the school so her friends won’t see their cheap and simple car. She apologizes to her first boyfriend that she lives on the wrong side of the tracks. It is also because of this struggle of money that brings Christine and her mother into conflict so much. Christine wants to go to the east coast for college, Marion thinks she needs to just stay around in Sacramento, due to money issues. This struggle for wealth doesn’t only affect Christine, but Marion too. In this scene of Marion driving through Sacramento, we hear the background music playing This Eve of Parting by John Hartford as well as watching the beautiful scenery of Sacramento together with Marion. It is a really enjoyable—relaxing, almost catharsis—moment that acknowledges the beauty of this town. But it all cuts abruptly when Marion arrives home. The abrupt cut implies that home,for Marion, is where struggles come from, that it is not the ideal world that the mother thought she could offer to the family. “We didn’t think we would be in this house for 25 years. We thought we would’ve moved to someplace better. Whatever we give you, it’s never enough,” Marion says in honesty later on in the movie. It is this clash between the characters’ ideal world and the real world that makes this film so heartbreaking yet exhilarating.  

Christine wants her life to be better, to be how she imagines it to be. She puts on this tough girl character in order to befriend the rich and popular girl at school, to impress this handsome mysterious boy she saw. Christine then lies about which house she lives in, using the light blue house as a statement that she is rich enough and worthy to be friends with the popular girl. Her desire to leave Sacramento so bad comes from her own family’s financial reputation. It is interesting that when looking up reviews for this movie how few—little to none— of them mentions about the anxieties with money, the shame of where you’re from. It might be due to the overpowering charismatic relationship between Christine and her mom that steals the spotlight. But the battle of class, status and wealth is so embedded deep down in their relationship that it can not be overlooked. It stretches into Christine’s way of relating herself to everything, it all starts with where she came from. After all, one of the core foundations of this movie is acceptance. We see Christine grow as a student and a daughter. We also see Christine grow into her process of accepting her world, the imperfect, yet perfectly enough, world. 

In his essay, Neo-Neo Realism, A.O Scott argues for the need of realism in movies, especially when the world is “dismaying and confusing” (Scott). Lady Bird is a prime example of the type of movies Scott talks about—no wonder he likes Lady Bird so much. These so called neorealistic movies don’t try to make the audience feel more hopeful, they do so naturally by illuminating the honest struggles its characters grapple with. To allow the story unravel in its own shape instead of putting an expectation—or judging the work—on how it should look like in order to appease the ideal. When a movie is successful in completing that task it will then relate to the audience on a deeper level. Lady Bird is not afraid to show off its flawed world, thus, it gives the audience the permission to take a break on the forever chasing of the ideal world. Instead, to take a moment to appreciate struggle that we’ve all encountered in our lives and see how that struggle is a statement that we are alive. “Though these stories end in disappointment, they are somehow the opposite of depressing” (Scott). Although the ending to Lady Bird would not be considered a disappointment, it does feel like the opposite of depressing. Yet the ending wouldn’t be called a happy ending either. The struggle with identity and wealth does not disappear in the end, it is still clearly there. But there is that sense of acceptance that Christine offers us.It is hopeful, it breathes new life. That’s why Lady Bird stands unique to most other coming of age films. It is a brand new hope. Coming of age films usually have a happy ending so that the teenagers—the targeted audience—can feel jolly about what they’ve just watched. Take Edge Of Seventeen, directed by Kelly Fermon Craig, for example. This is another coming of age story and it’s not a bad film at all. But even the beginning already tells the audience that it will get a happy ending for the characters. The protagonist, Nadine(Hailee Steinfeld), walks into the classroom and tells her teacher(Woody Harrleson) that she is going to kill herself. But the teacher does not take her seriously. Instead, the teacher jokes about how he would also love to commit suicide. Now, the movie has its own purpose of doing this but it does tell the audience that this is a funny, lighthearted, high school movie. The weight of the problem seems very whimsical. Lady Bird, on the other hand, is also funny, but the weight of the problem seems way more urgent, way more authentic. 

Richard Linklater also takes a stand on bringing neorealism to the big screen with his movie, Boyhood. This movie has one of the most special ways of tackling that realism with it being shot over the span of 12 years. Over the years, Linklater kept all the same cast members so we follow the protagonist, Mason(Ellar Coltrane), from his young boyhood to a teenager just starting college. The audience watch the boy literally mature in front of their eyes. Like Lady Bird, this is a coming of age film. This film also doesn’t have a very dramatic plot. There are moments in the film that don’t really add any significance to drive the “story” but to simply be there to enhance it. The film doesn’t ask itself to be more than what it is. It invites the audience to sit down and pay attention to Mason as he grows up. Boyhood was also able to create an honest view that allows the audience to see the far from ideal life that many people live through. At the end of the movie, Mason is packing up to leave for college. His mother starts to get upset about how eager Mason looks on leaving home. She calls her life a string of milestones and nothing more. The milestones are each big accomplishments in her life and she can only list a few. From getting married, getting divorced, having kids, and finally to her funeral. Mason responds, trying to be comforting, with asking her that isn’t she skipping another forty years or so. The mother says, “I just thought there would be more”. There is something heartbreaking about that sentence. Again, like in Lady Bird, it is the struggle that comes with our wants are never met. The ideal world will forever be a place that’s impossible to grasp. Throughout the movie we see the mother as a character who is always working hard to provide for the family and a person that does not give up easily. We see her go through two divorce yet she is still the strong woman—if not, then stronger—we see in the beginning. But in this moment we see someone who is struggling, or scared for what it is to come.The denial of the reality that has been set on her. Maybe the mother never knew what she was going to do, she thought she was going to be more.  

Acceptance finds its into every human being’s life at one point or another. Whether it has to deal with wealth, identity, love, or what college you go to, it is an essential step to reach that happiness, that connection with other people. That is why movies like Lady Bird and Boyhood are so special and compelling to watch. At the end of Lady Bird, we see Christine coming out of a church in New York City. That church has had an emotional impact on Christine, shown through her teary eyes. She takes out the flip phone and dials her dads number, to talk to her mom. The dad doesn’t pick up the phone and Christine proceeds to leave a voice message. The fluttering piano keys begins to play—the score, Consolation & Reconcile, by Jon Brion—as Christine asks her mom “did you feel emotional first time driving in Sacramento,” she tells her how beautiful everything looked in Sacramento. All the things she knew her whole life, as if she is looking at them with completely new eyes. In this moment, Christine opens her heart to where she came from, realizing how lucky she is to have grown up in the area she did. How beautiful everything is. How beautiful her friends are.How gorgeous her family is. Christine then lets out two words that she has never told her mom before, “thank you,” she says with true appreciation as she takes a breath.

Work Cited 

Scott, A.O. “Neo-Neo Realism.” The New York Times, 17 March 2009,

Scott, A.O. “Review: Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ Is Big-Screen Perfection.” The New York Times, 

31 October 2017, 

Zacharek, Stephanie. “Lady Bird Captures the Joy and Pain of Coming of Age in the Suburbs.” 

The Time, 2 November 2017,

https://time.com/5006939/lady-bird-captures-joy-pain-coming-of-age/

Colbert, Stephen. “Saoirse Ronan Knows Why You Love ‘Lady Bird’.” Youtube, 6 December 

2017, 

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