Mothers, Daughters and Adolescence: How Lady Bird Brings the Not-So-Pretty Side of Growing Up to the Screen

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The relationship between mother and daughter is one that is not always so easily explained or understood, especially in those vital coming-of-age years. It’s one that is often taken for granted or boiled down simply to a part of growing up. Lady Bird, a uniquely vibrant coming-of-age feature, brings this relationship boldly to life within its hour and a half on screen.

This original screenplay, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is sure to become an instant classic. With top-notch casting from the team of Heidi Griffiths, Allison Jones, Toni Staniewicz, and Jordan Thaler, Lady Bird provides a window into a year in the life of titular character Lady Bird (Christine) as she confronts the ups-and-downs of adolescence in Sacramento, California, in the early 2000s.

The film, produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Gerwig’s manager Evelyn O’Neil, started as a nearly 350-page script entitled Mothers and Daughters, which was cut down over several years to 115 pages and given its current title. After securing financing from IAC Films, Lady Bird began production on August 30, 2016, and was filmed on location in Sacramento, Los Angeles and New York. In July 2017, A24 acquired worldwide distribution rights to the film, which was released theatrically on November 3, 2017 after screenings at the Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival.

In Lady Bird, Gerwig invites the audience to not only view this slice of life, but also examine what it is that makes those adolescent years both so tumultuous and so important. The level of detail written into these characters is one that certainly merits several watches – the first of which I found best to simply let wash over me.

Gerwig herself was born in Sacramento, where Lady Bird takes place. Though she has made it clear that the film is not necessarily semi-autobiographical, she has said that it has seeds of truth from her own life. In fact, Gerwig prepared the cast by giving them samples of her journals and high school yearbooks, as well as taking them on a tour of her hometown so that they could get a feel for what Lady Bird/Christine’s life would’ve really been like. In creating the overall look for the film, Gerwig told Cinematographer Sam Levy that she wanted Lady Bird to be reminiscent of a memory and has said that she wanted to offer a female counterpart to films like Boyhood and The 400 Blows.*

A true meditation on adolescence, it’s easy to find yourself lost in Lady Bird/Christine’s world. With an intense, colorful narrative, Lady Bird strives to explore what it means to grow up, to leave home, and to find oneself in a world that isn’t always easy or kind.

Part of what makes Lady Bird so great has to do with its fantastic cast. It’d be much harder to identify with and root for Lady Bird/Christine had it not been for Saoirse Ronan bringing such warmth to the character, painting her as endearing rather than what could potentially come across as entitled.

For Gerwig, the decision to cast Ronan (best known to American audiences for her Oscar nominated performance in Atonement) was made almost instantly. According to the Los Angeles Times, the two met at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, where Gerwig was promoting Maggie’s Plan and Ronan was promoting Brooklyn. Their meeting lead to a script read-through, with Ronan reading the part of Lady Bird. By the second page, Gerwig knew that Ronan was perfect for the role and a key component to the story fell into place.

Laurie Metcalf, the other side of the mother-daughter dichotomy, does an equally incredible job of bringing the strong-willed Marion McPherson to life. Ronan and Metcalf display the kind of relationship that is not only relatable, but reveals a great deal about the inner workings of each character individually.

As someone who has recently left home to start the next chapter of my life, Lady Bird hit a particularly familiar note. Without a doubt, this is the kind of movie that’ll stay with you after you leave the theater – and have you wanting to give your parents a call, just to say thank you.

*Zukerman, Esther (November 5 2017). “How Greta Gerwig Turned the Personal ‘Lady Bird’ Into a Perfect Movie”. Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 2, 2018.

**Rottenberg, Josh (September 3, 2017). “Greta Gerwig talks about her directorial debut and casting Saoirse Ronan in ‘Lady Bird’”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 2, 2018

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