By Jamie Moddelmog,
For Davis teenagers, “Lady Bird” will hit close to home, both metaphorically and geographically. The indie-film with a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes follows the senior year of a girl self-named “Lady Bird.” She attends “Immaculate Heart” high school, a fictional all-girls catholic school based off nearby St. Francis High, where the film’s writer and director, Greta Gerwig, graduated in 2002.
The film is heart warming without being corny, hilarious without sacrificing the realisticness of the plot and expertly presents the dilemma of wanting to reject your home while also being defined by it.
Although the setting is Sacramento, the hometown angst that Lady Bird feels is likely very relatable for Davis teens. There is even a crack at UC Davis in the movie, when Lady Bird gets accepted to the school but despairs over going to a school “famous for its agricultural program.”
The movie begins with the quote “Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” The epigraph sums up Lady Bird’s angst which serves as the story’s central conflict. She wants to get as far as possible from Sacramento and its quiet streets surrounded by farmland, but her mother does not think they have the money for her to attend the expensive private schools on the east coast that Lady Bird dreams of.
Lady Bird longs for something more and is constantly looking for something special, saying to her mom in an early scene, “I wish I could live through something,” after listening to an audiobook version of The Grapes of Wrath. Throughout the movie, the escalating war in Iraq effects the daily lives and those of her around her, but she fails to recognize that she is living through a sigificant world event, an analogy to her taking for granted all that shr has in Sacramento and her family.
Her relationship with her mother and the overall tone of the film can be summarized by their first scene conversation, which quickly transitions from polite chit-chat into a screaming match culminating with Lady Bird opening the passenger door and falling out of the moving car.
The artful flow of events strikes a perfect balance between nothing happening and something “jumping out of a moving car” happening and keeps the viewer reeled in. Besides being an extremely well-crafted coming-of-age story, “Lady Bird” is also pretty hilarious.
Lady Bird herself provides much of the comedy with her quirkiness. She claims Lady Bird is her given name–“given to me, by me”–, buys cigarettes and a playgirl magazine the morning of her 18th birthday and snacks on communion crackers. The story also features a quirky cast of characters, such as the JV football coach who is forced to direct the school play, the nuns who make the prom theme “eternal fire” and the young counter-culture bass player who “tries not to participate in the market economy.”
The predictable, funny characters the viewers get to know well give the movie the lighthearted feel of childhood and hominess, while presenting the story of a teenager searching for answers to life’s serious questions.
This is what Gerwig intended in the writing of her semi-autobiographical movie, shedding light on an angsty time in her life where she still paradoxically found comfort in the environment oppressing her.
Gerwig has been quoted as saying that she wrote Lady Bird as a “love letter to Sacramento,” her hometown. The movie is based on her real life and presents her childhood from an appreciative adult perspective. Scenes are interspersed with shots of Sacramento landmarks like the Tower theater, American River, sunny tree-lined streets and the Tower Bridge.
The movie has earned a spot in the pantheon of rebellious coming-of-age classics, along with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Risky Business” and “Superbad.” The interesting twist on the classic theme is that, while Lady Bird does focus on the longing for adventure and the transition into adulthood, its message is also one of accepting what you have and holding onto you childhood.