We were all angsty teenagers once, and perhaps deep down we still are, no matter how steeped into adulthood we feel. And Lady Bird, with its five Academy Award nominations (including Best Director for indie darling Greta Gerwig, the first woman to be nominated in eight long years), owes it success to its willingness and audacity to acknowledge this fact.
Set in the year 2002, an era when kids dyed their hair a fiery Manic Panic red, dressed in boot-cut jeans and ‘90s-remnant grunge tees, and sobbed unabashedly to Dave Matthews Band after being unceremoniously dumped, the movie tells the story of senior high school student Christine McPherson, aka Lady Bird—“it’s [a name] given to me, by me,” she insists. Longing to spread her wings and fly far, far away from the stifling mediocrity of her Sacramento nest, Lady Bird (played by Saiorse Ronan, Best Actress nominee) goes through the existential crisis every small-town girl (or boy) experiences when faced with the sudden possibility of being thrust into another world of bright lights and big cities: a highly contradictory mix of excitement, apprehension, impatience, overconfidence, and regression.
At her core, Lady Bird is profoundly lonely, finding solace in neither her well-meaning but overbearing and hypercritical mother (Laurie Metcalf, nominee for Best Supporting Actress) nor the boys she flings her hope and affection onto: the seemingly flawless Danny (Lucas Hedges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and the dreamy, emotionally unavailable Kyle (prodigy Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name). Her long-time best friend Julie, the one who truly knows and understands her, is relegated to side-pal when Lady Bird decides she needs to upgrade to a cooler new crowd. Adding to her isolation is the gulf between her own rebellious beliefs and her Catholic all-girls school’s bevy of rules and rituals, and her stubborn insistence at applying to a university in New York City, “where culture is, where writers live in the woods.” The film sees her through the highs and lows of the admissions process, dodging financial troubles and family drama and culminating in Freshman Week, where you wonder whether or not she got what she wanted in the end, or if the admission she was seeking was actually into adulthood, or some version of it she can control.
So much of Lady Bird’s discontent comes from the illusion, fostered by her small-town claustrophobia and naïve superiority complex, that loneliness is failure. But loneliness, she comes to comprehend as the story progresses, isn’t failure. Neither is it weakness. Sometimes it’s just a searing clarity that there are parts of you the world is still struggling to find space for, maybe parts that aren’t fully formed just yet, parts you can tuck in and save for yourself until the right time comes. The movie captures the tumultuous, confusing, messy years of adolescence so realistically, but with Gerwig’s gentle, genuine writing and direction, Lady Bird’s mistakes and imperfections fill us with more tenderness and fondness than a sense of dread, as if we were looking back at our young, dumb, broke, cocky AF selves and knowing we were going to turn out all right anyway.
We were all angsty teenagers once, and perhaps deep down we still are. Lady Bird is a reminder that this is okay—that if we can find it in ourselves to hope as fervently, speak our minds as boldly, fall in love as recklessly, forgive as quickly, laugh as easily, and live as loudly as we did when we were angsty teens, then we can spread our wings and soar, taking flight even when all we have—especially when all we have—is time.