*CAUTION–Sacramento natives: bring your tissues to the theater*
One of the many memorable quotes: “I hate California. I want to go to the East Coast. I want to go where culture is, like New York.”
As a Sacramento native and St. Francis alumna, I knew I would be just a bit biased and think it was one of the best films ever. My expectations were high, but the film exceeded them beyond measure. Directed and written by the reigning indie queen, Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird tells the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, portrayed by the magnetic Saoirse Ronan, in her senior year at a Catholic high school in 2002 as she yearns to get away from her mother and escape Sacramento, California for the East Coast. On her quest to make it out of a place she considers to have no “culture” and attempt to find the best version of herself, Lady Bird falls in and out of love, discovers who her true friends are, and, of course, performs in musical theater. The wild, pink-haired teen decides what she wants and seeks to get it without fully considering those who may be affected, particularly her equally strong-willed mother, Marion, played by the brilliant Laurie Metcalf.
I’ll start my review as Sydney Bembry, the St. Francis alumna. Set at a Catholic all-girls high school, Lady Bird and her schoolmates are seen in their uniforms–white Oxford shirts with perfectly pleated polyester skirts. Not to say that I hated wearing my checkered skirt–it was very comfortable, actually–but that skirt is long gone. However, when Lady Bird and her classmates appear on the screen wearing those perfectly pleated skirts I found myself emotional. The moment I saw those skirts I remembered the feeling like that skirt was practically a part of my body for four years. Yes, I still see St. Francis girls on my Instagram feed having graduated a few months ago but I somehow don’t attach myself and my great memories to those images. Seeing those images on the big screen made me want to remember. I remembered the office ladies telling me to be careful with the back of my skirt, the dreaded skirt checks, and the girls who were constantly warned to fix their short skirts but never did. (Although, if the characters were really seniors, their skirts wouldn’t have been that pleated and unwrinkled after 4 years. Just sayin’.)
Having graduated in 2017, I started high school about 10 years after the movie is set. So there were obvious differences in how the gym or classrooms looked. Even though we didn’t have Mass with our brother school, Jesuit, it worked really well on-screen because it was a better way to explain how girls and boys from same-sex schools interacted. One of the many aspects of my high school the film absolutely nailed was the relationship students had with faculty. Specifically, in Lady Bird’s relationship with Sister Sarah Joan, the nun who is tenderly honest with the main character and encourages her to understand what love can look like in relation to her hometown, the film portrays the close bonds students at my high school made with faculty based on trust, honesty, and respect. While it shows the gift of invested staff, it also explained how teenagers don’t always realize that the adults that teach them also have lives and problems of their own, as shown in Father Leviatch’s storyline.
The part that reminded me of my high school experience the most is Lady Bird’s relationship with her best friend Julie, played by my latest obsession who made the Mass favorite, “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace” stuck in my hand for weeks, Beanie Feldstein. Without seeing all the years behind their tight-knit friendship, it was evident how much the characters loved each other. You could see how they loved each other’s company and felt more comfortable being themselves around each other than most people. Whether they are naughtily eating the wafers or talking about how much they hated their weight, they were the best friends girls are lucky to have. While they have a lovable bond, you can’t help but hate Lady Bird for being such a jerk when abandoning Julie for the rich and popular Jenna Walton. But, that’s just another part of learning to be a good friend. Most girls can relate to those times we’ve either ditched a friend for someone more “cool” or being that friend that gets ditched. What the film does so tenderly is show how friends–true friends–will have that realization of how precious of a gift that friendship truly is. While I am sadly not best friends with Beanie Feldstein, who I believe is the next talented and deserving star in entertainment, I can happily say that I made the same close, special friendships with many of my classmates. Feldstein and Ronan’s subtle and relatable performances and Gerwig’s thoughtful script showed that my classmates and closest friends weren’t just my friends–they became my sisters.
As someone who has escaped Sacramento for New York, I can say that my life over the last year and a half basically unfolded in front of my eyes while watching Lady Bird. Since sophomore year of high school, I made sure everyone knew I had no intentions of staying anywhere in California, let alone Sacramento. (Full disclaimer: I’m that third-generation legacy who stupidly didn’t, at least, apply to UC Davis). Having not moved to Sacramento until I was nine-years-old from the East Bay Area, I didn’t even consider myself from Sacramento. After two months at school in New York, I hadn’t even been homesick. Then, I saw Lady Bird. Within the first 5 minutes of the movie, tears began rushing from my eyes. Nothing dramatic had even happened, and I’m crying! Much to my surprise and, frankly, displeasure, simply seeing images of Sacramento on-screen made me weep. “What is happening?”, I thought. “I don’t even like Sacramento!” But, I guess that wasn’t true, was it? My formative years were spent in Sacramento. Most of my best and worst memories are in Sacramento. I have shamefully bad directional skills, but I know streets in Sacramento the best. Seeing shots of the classic Tower Theater, the bridge I frequently drove on, and the heart-wrenching shot of the street that leads to my high school at the end of the film, I was forced to admit a truth I previously refused to swallow–I’m from Sacramento, and I love it.
The shining lights in a film full of perfection are the performances by Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as her mother. As the main character, Ronan plays Lady Bird with such genuineness that I have honestly never seen in a teenage character on film, let alone a teenage girl. Lady Bird, like most teenagers, is a complex character who doesn’t always realize how complicated she is. While that sounds confusing, Ronan is able to present that confusion of existence with such truth and ease. Ronan portrayed the feeling of being so lost but also so confident in where you are going so well it was scary. I’ve been a fan of Ronan’s for a while now, and I’m confident that she is one of the greatest performers of my generation.
By the title of the film and its poster, Lady Bird seems to just be a movie about a teenage girl. But, alongside the titular character, you learn that this is a story about a mother. What I believe Metcalf does so masterfully in her performance is that she illustrates that her character knows it is her shared journey with her family, and she is pleading for her daughter to see that, as well. Together, Ronan and Metcalf’s brilliant performances made me realize a truth I didn’t believe was true–during my senior year, I was a complete and utter jerk to my mom. I think my mom and I can agree that we both wanted to jump out of the car like Lady Bird did at the beginning of the film. In seeing unquestioningly honest scenes when the mother and daughter duo fought about Lady Bird’s inconsiderate attitude towards money and college, had brutal conversations about the reality of their circumstances, and the repercussions Lady Bird’s actions can have on others, I saw my relationship with my mom. Lady Bird is a confident and passionate character, but she’s also a jerk who says terrible, sometimes unforgivable, things to her mother. I understood that I was Lady Bird, and I was heartbroken and horrified by how much I must have broken my mom’s heart without knowing or caring. The graduation scene haunts me the most as, while not about college, I have pleaded and begged my mom to talk to me after doing something so hurtful. To be honest, I’m still reconciling with the things I have done and trying to figure out how to be a better daughter to my loving mom. But, I believe that shows how beautiful of a film Lady Bird is. A film that makes a teenager realize she’s a jerk must be a damn good one.
What shines the most in this unbelievable perfect film is Gerwig’s script. Through her words, often simple but powerful in truth, she portrays parts of growing up that are sometimes so hard to describe. That feeling of being destined for more but trapped by adolescence and inexperience. That feeling like you know you aren’t being your best self but lie to yourself in thinking you don’t know how to be that person. She flawlessly explains the belief that your hometown, specifically Sacramento, is holding you back from experience what life has to offer and then realizing how false that was when you finally flee the nest. With her unique perspective coming from a same-sex Catholic education in Sacramento, often overshadowed by the famous Bay Area, Gerwig was able to show what it means to come of age as a young woman, from the curiosity about sex to learning how to be a sister to your fellow girl, like none have done before. In her words and through her direction, Gerwig is able to make people do something most try to avoid–think about growing up. She doesn’t sugar-coat adolescence (let’s face it, growing up sucks) but she allows the viewer to recognize how rewarding and valuable those experiences truly are.
I knew I would probably leave satisfied after waiting for this movie for so long, but I have never been as inspired and moved after seeing a film. So inspired, that I think I did something kind of bold and unlike me. The day following seeing the film at the New York Film Festival, I wrote an email drafted to Greta Gerwig (no, I don’t have her email) saying how much her film meant to me. Weeks after writing the note and asking friends about it, I summoned up the courage to send the email to the Theater Director of my high school to possibly forward to Greta, and I’m so grateful that she did. Gerwig may never read or respond to the email, but I’m happy that I can say that I sorta told my favorite filmmaker how I loved her film, my favorite movie.
To end this post about a film that means the world to me, I think my good friend and fellow St. Francis alum, Sally Ferguson, explains perfectly how young women, Sacramento girls especially, feel about Gerwig’s sensational film: “[Seeing the film] was honestly surreal. There are so many “typical” coming of age movies but there was nothing typical about growing up in Sacramento or going to an all-girls high school. Being able to finally watch a movie and relate to even the smallest details is something I never would’ve imagined. I think only someone who grew up here and experienced adolescence in Sacramento could have made a movie as perfect as Lady Bird. Greta did an amazing job and truly captured the beauty that is Sacramento and an all-girls education.”
Through my eyes,