Lady Bird is a coming of age movie with its own fair share of clichés. From having the titular Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson experience an identity crisis and struggles of fitting in, to going through her first heart break and family issues, particularly feeling out of place and misunderstood, the clichés keep on coming. But, what stands out, is the mother-daughter story that takes centre stage. And it’s precisely what makes the movie so unique despite its clichés.
Lady bird is shown as a self-indulgent person who is oblivious to things concerning her family. She does not notice that her dad has been on anti-depressant medicines for years, she is seemingly indifferent towards the fact that there are financial burdens on the family and that her mom is working two shifts to pay the bills and she does not congratulate her best friend for landing the lead role in the play in which she, herself, is cast as a supporting character. But, at the same time, she is also shown as someone who is fiercely loyal and very astute. A key character point for her is that she hates Sacramento, which is where she has lived all her life and wants to move to the East Coast. She constantly belittles Sacramento and everything about it. But, she ironically also participates in school elections and school plays and looks for her peers’ approval. Maybe it is just a part of growing up, peer pressure, I mean. Or maybe it adds some complexity to the character and suits the story line. Anyway, bottom line being that she is a flawed person.
Her mother, on the other hand, comes across as constantly nagging and critiquing her daughter. Her mother pays attention too. To her patients, to her co-workers and towards her family. Maybe so much so that at times it feels suffocating. At no point through the movie do the mother-daughter duo go through a full length of conversation without ending up arguing with each other. But the movie never picks any sides. We understand Lady Bird’s frustration due to her mother’s never satisfied personality. But we also understand how hard the mother is working to provide for her family. And that despite taking two shifts at the hospital, she still ALWAYS makes time. Also what makes it so human, is how every time someone other than herself says anything demeaning, Lady Bird rises up to defend her mother. She knows that no matter how much they fight, that at the end of the day her mother only wants the best for her. So while it is true that Lady Bird is very self-indulgent, at her core, she knows and understands and appreciates what family is. Having gone through that same high school age, we appreciate how the movie captures the grey areas of the most important relationship of our lives – our family. Because, it is true that at times their family comes off as highly dysfunctional, but it is never indifferent. Never hateful. Never antagonistic.
This is family that makes sacrifices. The parents, despite their money problems, send Lady Bird to a private school because they want their daughter to be safe. The father helps is son get the job that they were both after. They take in Migel’s (Lady Bird’s brother) girlfriend Shelly when her parents kick her out for going against their conservative catholic notions. There is an innate goodness in each of the characters in the family that makes us understand that dysfunctional though it may seem, it is never toxic. It just comes out of a place of exhaustion, unfortunate circumstances and an inclination towards driving the best out of someone. Yes, they lack patience. Specially Lady Bird and her mother. Yes, they lack a certain sympathy towards one another. But what they do not lack at all, is respect.
As Lady Bird gets into a college on the East Coast, just as she had wanted, she realises how much she misses home. How much she loved it. Both the women in the movie have very strong personalities so they do not see eye to eye on pretty much anything. And that is also the reason why neither one of them admits to having made a mistake. Lady Bird, for constantly feeling embarrassed about her family and from hiding from her mom that she was applying to schools out of state, and her mother, for not being there for Lady Bird as she was making this life changing transition. They both have their pride. But the love never alters. The movie shows that even if someone is completely different from you, and even if it creates friction in pretty much anything, that love can still prevail. It shows that as long as you are putting in the efforts, as long as you have an underlying recognition towards the efforts of the other person, and as long as you are paying attention, there is still love. That attention, IS love.