If you’re into film, chances are your bank account is dwindling right now. I know mine is. Because of the yearly frenzy created by studios that I willingly feed into, the amount of good movies out right now is overwhelming. Naturally, this means that everyone and their mother is writing articles about their Oscar season hot takes, but I’m going to add to the noise anyway, and write about my own filmgoing experiences from now until the hallowed award show.
First up is Lady Bird, one of the most buzzed about movies of the year, but also the movie that has stuck with me the most. If you’re a college student, chances are it will resonate with you too. It’s a classic high school coming-of-age narrative, with college applications, two failed romances, a high school play, a rich bitch and a lifelong best friend, nuns, you name it.
But at its core it’s about the titular character’s relationship with both her mother and the city she’s from. She loves both her mother and Sacramento more than she can admit to herself in high school. The ending sequence, when Christine (“Lady Bird”) is in college, expresses the bittersweetness of leaving one’s home and family with picture perfect accuracy.
I think it’s the realism of the film that gives it its power. Often, movies set in high school are preoccupied with being about high school, and thus attempt to capture an all-encompassing high school experience. This film is about Lady Bird herself - her preoccupations, her interests, her anger, her dreams. It’s also very grounded in its setting of an early 2000’s working-class Sacramento.
The realities of class and money frame nearly every relationship in the film, and are at the source of Lady Bird’s frustration with her family. She knows her parents are doing the best they can, but that doesn’t stop her from wishing that they could provide more for her. She doesn’t understand how they aren’t more angry about their own situations in life.
This focus on class is also evident in her relationships with her classmates. One of the most striking scenes to me was when she was hanging out with Jenna, the wealthy popular girl she replaces her best friend with, at her McMansion in the suburbs. Jenna has the social status and wealth Lady Bird craves, but none of the drive to escape Sacramento. Because she has always had everything she wants handed to her, she loves it there and wants to stay forever to raise her children. She provides a foil for Lady Bird, whose main goal in high school is to escape California.
Lady Bird is primarily frustrated with the mediocrity of her own existence. She wants to go “where culture is,” ie the east coast. I lived in the Sacramento area from childhood to mid-adolescence, and I remember having this same thought (it really is the midwest of California). People who wanted to stay in the place they were from confused me. I’m sure many people raised in similarly non-exceptional, or maybe just non-mythologized cities can relate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that captures the specific malaise of suburban middle-class existence. Or the nostalgia that one will ultimately have for this existence when they move to a larger, more iconic city.
Part of the realistic nature of the film stems from the autobiographical nature of the narrative. Watching the film is like stepping into 18-year-old Greta Gerwig’s journal. But amazingly, Gerwig is able to present the story to us without judgment towards her younger self. When she says things like “I really enjoy dry-humping more” after losing her virginity, you laugh, but you know that’s something a high-school senior would actually say.
I truly think everyone should see this movie, but especially freshmen in college. Trust me.