A college class on the psychology of family taught me a parent often has more trouble with a child of their gender.
That dynamic is clearly on display in the wonderful movie, “Lady Bird.”
The title refers to the name that Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) gives herself because she does not like her given name. This is a sore subject for her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf).
Lady Bird is going through her senior year in high school, and the issues between her and her mother stay at a constant simmer, always seemingly about to boil over.
She and her mother do not get along, and she hates living in her hometown of Sacramento, which she calls “the Midwest of California.” Lady Bird longs to go to college far away on the East Coast.
At the beginning of the year, we see Lady Bird trying to stand outside of the group of her high school. She is a scholarship student in a Catholic school populated by rich kids.
When asked where she lives, she likes to say, “On the wrong side of the tracks.” Along with her friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), she looks at these privileged kids and speaks words of disapproval, but it is easy to see she longs to be part of them.
Within her circle is an odd choice for a confidant, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith).
Lady Bird goes to her for help with college, but this older nun and this young woman share a bond of understanding. This relationship is ironic because Lady Bird wants to get as far away from Catholic education as possible.
During the year, Lady Bird falls in love, twice. She battles constantly with her mother and sees her father (Tracy Letts) lose his job. She loses friends, gains friends and grows up into an adult.
I loved the richness of this movie. It is an everyday story. Millions of kids are seniors in high school, but this movie takes a realistic view of it and speaks to what truly goes on in a family going through this special time in a child’s life.
The way that writer and director Greta Gerwig portrays that central relationship between mother and daughter is so true to life.
I remember my sister’s and mother’s interactions during my sister’s senior year. There were arguments about everything from what she wore to whom she dated. Gerwig captures this so vividly.
Shifts take place in “Lady Bird” that are not contrived narrative devices, but demonstrate the changes we all have either seen or experienced.
This is not a John Hughes ’80s teen comedy. It’s a real vision of what life is for a young person trying to find her way.
A final thought about this great movie. The place of faith is very much a part of the film’s story.
As mentioned, Lady Bird finds in Sister Sarah Joan a person she can talk to in realistic terms. Gerwig does something nice here.
She allows faith and religion to hold a very important place in her story but does not talk down to it or make it seem creepy or not valid.
Religion here holds a place where it does not dominate or even try.
The teachers and staff of the school see themselves as guides to the students. They do not preach at them but allow them to find their own way and act as signposts in the hope of directing them to better roads of choice.
That is something needed but rarely shown.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.
Writer and director: Greta Gerwig.
Cast: Saoirse Ronan (Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson), Laurie Metcalf (Marion McPherson), Tracy Letts (Larry McPherson), Beanie Feldstein (Julie Steffans), Lois Smith (Sister Sarah Joan).
The movie’s website is here.