Lady Bird, Originality, and Home
--Spoilers for Lady Bird--
Here's a movie idea for you. A young girl, let's say high schooler, is going through her senior year. She's worried about the normal things a teenager worries about. Relationships with friends, boys, parents, and getting into a college she wants.
There's some drama, of course. She almost loses her best friend, guys lie to her, she fights with her mom, she gets drunk at some point, all leading to her discovering what's really important in life. Will her actions keep her from finding real love, friendship, and a good college?
Then there's the fact that she goes to a Catholic school, you see. There's some tension with religion and the nuns, all very glaring against her need to explore who she is. Will these confines stifle her?
All of this sounds nice, right? Familiar. It sounds like a little Hallmark Channel movie. It's the same coming of age story that we have seen a million times before.
It's also exactly the lazy summary of Lady Bird. Yet, here I am talking about an Oscar-nominated movie for best picture, and then some. I was a grown man fighting that damn lump in my throat in the last scene of the movie.
This movie is proof that well written and acted characters can take a story, which, at its core, is not something drastically new, and create something impactful.
“The merit of originality is not novelty; it is sincerity.” – Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher, and writer
That realism touches on something we all can connect with.
With any coming of age story, there's almost always the element of dating, sex, and heartbreak. In Lady Bird, though, there's a deeper meaning to the people she dates, portrayed with the brilliant awkwardness of real high school dating. I mean, only high schoolers can get caught up in the moment, talking about hair curlers, then start making out. With Danny (Lucas Hedges), though, we see there's a lot more going on.
When Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) catches him kissing another boy in the bathroom, there's isn't the typical blow up fighting argument scene. There's just hurt and complexity. It's passive aggressiveness for a while and Danny isn't just ashamed he broke Lady Bird's heart, there's a real fear that his family won't accept him for who he is. His breakdown is something earned. We see his traditional Irish Catholic family, a litter of kids and all, and we can connect the dots that, maybe, they won't be so understanding. We don't need to be handheld through it.
Lady Bird's second fling is the lofty idealist Kyle (Timothee Chalamet). Well, he's only like that on the surface. He is in love with an image of himself, more than he is actually that person. Little things, like his hate for cell phones, then later using one, is the subtle little details that add to his character quietly.
Both of the guys Lady Bird is with seem to represent something about herself in their reflection. One is an actor, who is gay, trying to hide that from his family, most of all. The other has these ideals he doesn't even understand. They are representations of different parts of her character, connecting her to them in the first place.
Lady Bird too wants something else for her life. As she bounces around groups of friends, she acts differently. There are still parts of her that's pretending. She wants to be the kind of person that can move across the country and be with people that are radically different than those around her, more than she actually is that person.
This is the deep layer that creates something fresh. It's a story about home.
I listen to a movie podcast called F this Movie! Their top ten movies of the year had Lady Bird on most of their lists and beloved by these three guys talking about great films. It's doubtful any of them were teenage girls going to a Catholic high school at any point in their lives, but all of them said just how relatable the movie was. Friends I have that have seen Lady Bird, all say they love it too, all guys. I myself find it so honest and understandable.
We all search for what home is. We all need a place to belong, not just physically, but emotionally, comfortably, and mentally. I finally got to move into a new apartment that doesn't reek of smoke from upstairs, have spiders pouring out of the walls, and has appliances that all work. I've felt more at home for these couple of days than I have the past year of living in a new state.
This is exactly what Lady Bird wants. Well, freedom to be who she is, I mean, she might not like spiders either, but the movie didn't really go into it. She wants more for herself. Only to realize that's exactly what her mom wanted too. For herself, for her family.
Lady Bird and her mom...I almost want to avoid talking about it because of the relationship's complexity. That's what makes it so great, though. Again, these characters feel pulled directly out of the real world. They fight and argue, yet they cry together listening to The Grapes of Wrath on tape. They are like each other more than either wants to admit. They hurt each other more than either wants to admit.
What's interesting is one isn't right, and one isn't wrong. They are people trying to do what is best for themselves and each other. Lady Bird wants to fly, so to speak. It seems her mom wants to keep her grounded, but we learn she never intended to stay in that house in Sacramento either. She never got to fly. There's tension with lost dreams and being realistic.
We can understand then why Lady Bird hurts her mom so deeply by wanting to move. She made the best life she could for her kids, works hard, loves people (we see that she takes in Shelly, the all black wearing, nose piercing, seemingly punk loser who goes against our expectations too), and all she wants is some appreciation for it. She has to be the realist because that's what you need to do with your kids sometimes.
When Lady Bird realizes this, once she's in New York, it's not the night of partying that makes her see the error of her ways. I don't think it's her thinking this was even a mistake. It's her realizing, since her mom stopped talking to her, that there was something special about Sacramento. There was love there, connections, and family. It was home. It's what we all need too.
You don't choose what home is, you feel it.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @chrismlaporte