I have been a fan of Greta Gerwig for years: I enjoy her compelling on-screen presence, I dream about a perfect partnership like that of hers with Noah, and I LOVE her poignant depiction of young women in everything she writes. Both Frances Ha and Mistress America reflect the struggles of friendship, the confusions about womanhood and most importantly, the optimism along the journey of self-discovery. I could almost always see myself in situations she puts her characters and find myself sympathizing with the decisions they/she make/s, but as a girl who has unfortunately outgrown her “coming of age” and is, for better or worse, deep into the turmoil of adulthood, I did not expect to connect with her directorial debut “Lady Bird” as much as I actually did.
Christine’s story is so typical and universal that I’m sure I am not the only one who feels this movie lines up her upbringing almost identically. I grew up in a small city just like Sacramento, a place that is loosely associated with a bigger name, yet fails to be truly significant. I longed for adventures and craved to get out as I was always considered too odd and peculiar for my own good. The details of such boredom and pretention are captured so excellently in Christine that I find all her flaws and perks very familiar and endearing. She walked around a catholic school with her unevenly dyed pink hair, insisting on people calling her by the name of her own creation. It might have sounded romantic on paper, I could speak from my awkward teenage years that standing out in the wrong way was by no means glamorous. I was one such kid who always wanted to be someone else, someone more interesting and mysterious. I used to alienate people I genuinely liked just to be with the cool kids, I also confronted my mother with questions like “why did you even give birth to me?”, and I definitely had had a crush on a boy before finding out he was gay. The difference was that, unlike Christine, who reconciled with her mistakes in the movie, I never made up with the friends I lost, or apologized to my mother for my drama and angst, or ever confessed to that gay friend how much I cared. In a very personal way, the twists “Lady Bird” placed on the trivial and embarrassing moments of youth were no longer just vivid imageries on film, but also an immersion of all the visceral feelings and memories of my past.
If the first two acts of the movie were mere sensory triggers, the last act completely absorbed me. Just like Christine and Marion, my mother and I were both strong willed individuals who could barely live under the same roof. She was a teacher who was accustomed to yelling at and scolding people; and I was a rebellious only daughter who always took things in complicated ways. If Lady Bird pushed her mom’s boundary once by turning down US Davis and going to Barnard, I gave my dear mother three mental breakdowns if not heart attacks. I announced my decision to go to boarding school at age fourteen without negotiation; I left the country that raised me on a short notice; and I sent her the biggest gift for her big Five-O—a gigantic bill for my medical school tuition. At multiple cross roads of our lives, we could and should have had the conversation Christine and Marion had by the kitchen sink, but it never panned out quite as nicely. When the conflict climaxed, volcano erupted, Christine cried out loud “I am sorry that I wanted more” over and over again, I felt the exact guilt she had, said the same plead and understood at that very moment, the dynamics of that relationship was forever altered. Like Lady Bird, I did not know what I wanted or how I could get to what I wanted. All I had was a blind and naive conviction that I had the whole world in the palm of my hand. I did not understand that such illusion was a creation of my mother’s deep love and altruistic support, both mentally and financially. I wanted to prove myself and it was all about me. I was as resistant and stupid as my mom was stubborn and proud. Silence was her weapon as defiance was my protest. On the surface, I was the big and powerful decision maker of my own fate; while internally, the strength and resilience all derive from my seemingly fragile mother.
On Marion’s last drive to the airport, she missed the opportunity to say goodbye. On Christine’s awakening (from the hangover), she left a voicemail about how much she missed Sacramento. It was a subtle way of saying “I am homesick and I miss you” and moreover, it was a sobering apology “I am sorry and I love you”. I honestly can’t remember how I got back on speaking terms with my mother again, probably something very similar and low key. And that is what makes Greta’s writing so authentic: we could make big scenes out of small nothingness, yet when the important moments of life come and go, we are more like speculators who are only able to philosophize after the fact.