Lady Bird: Growth & Denial Against Her Nature By: alessia Brunori

High school can be the most pivotal four years of someone’s life. It can be four years of flourishing and maturing or it can be absolute hell for someone. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saiorse Ronan, is a senior in high school at Immaculate Heart in Sacramento, California. She believes that Sacramento is a cultural wasteland and is dying to go to college on the east coast because it is vibrantly intellectual. It is 2002, a post 9/11 U.S., and her family is scraping by. Her mother, Marion, is a psych nurse at a hospital and is constantly concerned about the opinions of others. Lady Bird’s father, Larry, has just been laid off from his job and is struggling with depression; he genuinely cares for his daughter deeply. Her brother and his girlfriend, Miguel and Shelley, are living on the family’s couch because the two are struggling getting jobs after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley. Lady Bird has a unique living situation, but she takes these aspects of her life and grows from it. Her strong bond with her best friend Julie, empowers Lady Bird to become the women that she is. Lady Bird uses all of her past struggles with boys, money, acceptance by her mother and her denial of living in Sacramento to propel her forward into finding her true self. She allows for room to fail and to grow from those situations.

This drama, comedy film is parabolic because in a way it represents the journey and sacrifice of Jesus; with the trial and tribulations along the way. Lady Bird, like the Apostles, were in denial. She wanted to hide the fact that she was from Sacramento and from a low-income family; like the Peter and the Apostles denied they knew Jesu. It takes her the whole film to realize she loves where she is from and that she has grown from the place where she grew up. She rejected catholic teachings in high school, until she realized it was a part of her. When Lady Bird goes to college in New York City, it identifies with her that Sacramento was a crucial part of her growth and the people that came along with it. After the arrest of Jesus, Peter and the Apostles denied they knew him. It was not until He went on His holy journey, for the people of the Earth, did the Apostles realize that Jesus was the savior of the world. Sometimes moments of light are not perceived until people are removed from the situation and gather their thoughts and emotions.

Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is a feminist recalibration of the genre tropes. Lady Bird McPherson is a corky young woman, yet she is relatable. She is a modern-day Molly Ringwald from Pretty in Pink. Born as Christine McPherson, she had given herself the name of “Lady Bird” in high school. She has pink, scroungy died hair and thrift shops for her clothes. Lady Bird prides herself in her unique style because to her the clothes she wears sets her apart from all of the materialistic people of her high school. Lady Bird explains that her name was “given by herself, for herself,” it is a fierce statement and she wants her peers to view her that way. Being called Lady Bird is also a cry for attention from her parents. Her mother works long hours in a hospital and her father is always struggling with finding work. She wants to stand out within her family and in school. Lady Bird always wants to be in the driver’s seat. She is very vocal with her opinions and how she wants to live her life. Lady Bird runs for student council every year, even though she doesn’t win. She tries out for the lead in the play, with a colorful audition, and doesn’t get the lead; but never back down from a challenge.

When Lady Bird tries out for the fall play, she falls in love with Danny O’Neill, the school’s golden boy. He comes from a rich Irish, Catholic family from the affluent side of Sacramento. She is enamored by his lifestyle and constantly jokes that she is from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Together they star in the play, smoke marijuana and say I love you for the first time. A lot of their relationship is about it being the “first” of many milestones. She romanticizes about wanting to marry Danny because he is so “perfect.” When Lady Bird gets invited over for Thanksgiving at Danny’s grandmothers, her and her mom go shopping for a nice dress. It is so important to her mother that she looks put together, so she does not embarrass the family. Lady Bird is taken back by where his grandmother lives because it is her absolute “dream house” in all of Sacramento. It is a robin’s egg blue colonial style house and to her that represents the American Dream. A beautiful house, where family comes together. Lady Bird’s world gets turned upside down when she catches Danny cheating on her with another young man their age. Danny is gay and struggling on how to tell the people he loves. She is heartbroken at first, but then becomes a person that Danny can feel safe with and be his true self. Lady Bird does not let this heart break set her back, she moves on from it and becomes a more empathetic person.

Lady Bird's "Dream House", the idea that she can have it all.

Back on her feet quickly after her first heartbreak, Lady Bird becomes interested in Kyle Scheible. He is guitar player in a local rock band and goes to the boy school affiliated with Immaculate Heart. Kyle is an angsty teen, always seen reading books at parties and prides himself for rebelling against America’s capitalistic society. Lady Bird wants to impress Kyle, so she starts hanging around his friends, using his language and smoking cigarettes. She is denying where she comes from and who she associates herself with to fit in. Lady Bird’s sexual desires awaken with Kyle because she feels like he is bold and is the “right person” to lose her virginity to. To Lady Bird, losing her virginity is a huge milestone and she wants it to be right. Kyle insinuates that he is a virgin, like Lady Bird, and that he wants to share this experience with her. After they both share “their first time” with each other, Kyle tells her that he’s not a virgin and that breaks her heart. To her, sex is special and not some random act to have with a random person. Kyle then states that “you’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life.” Unlike Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club, Lady Bird’s virginity is not symbolic of her failure to engage with life, nor her apparent innocence. Sex is not something she structures her identity around, rather a thing that happens. She knows that her self-worth is more than just sex, it is that she is strong young women that knows what she wants.

Balancing friendship in high school is a tricky aspect of life. Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie, is her companion and soulmate in ways. They both lean on each other as they try to navigate the hierarchal order of Immaculate Heart. Lady Bird and Julie aren’t the most popular girls in school, but they are decent people that care about others. The pair starts to drift when Lady Bird starts to get close with the “it girl”, Jenna Warton. Jenna is a symbol of popularity, wealth and beauty that Lady Bird feels like she will never have. Lady Bird starts to dress and talk like her, leaving Julie behind. Lady Bird tells Jenna she lives in Danny’s grandmothers house because she is embarrassed where she lives. There are vast differences between the two. Lady Bird wants to go away to college and Jenna wants to stay in Sacramento, ultimately to become a mother. After Lady Bird gets caught in a lie about where lives with Jenna, she feels embarrassed and defeated; but this doesn’t stop her about being excited for prom. Lady Bird wears a vibrant hot pink dress that she feels like herself in. As Kyle picks her up for prom, he tells her that his friends don’t really want to go. At first, she acts like she is okay with that, then she asks to be dropped off at Julie’s house. This is the moment of their reconciliation and that they connect as best friends again. The two go to prom together, slow dance and reminisce on high school. In a way, Lady Bird’s romantic subplot is with Julie and the flow of their relationship. These two needed one another and have a support system with each other. In coming-of-age films, it is often emphasized that women cannot be fulfilled without a conventional heterosexual relationship. In the case of Lady Bird and Julie, they needed to love one another to grow.

Lady Bird always romanticized about Jenna's life.
Reconciliation between best friends before the biggest night of the year, prom!

The most significant relationship that Lady Bird chases the whole movie is with her mother, Marion. Maternal brutality is apparent in this film because Marion is constantly chastising her daughter for everything that she does. Marion is constantly downgrading Lady Bird telling her she doesn’t have good enough grades to go anywhere but community college and diminishing her work ethic. Lady Bird so desperately wants her mother’s acceptance that she tries to please her by doing what she asks. When discussing college plans, Lady Bird wants her mother to hear her so bad that she throws herself out of the side of the car. For Marion being a psych nurse, she does not understand that the way she speaks to her daughter is unacceptable. Marion is always very concerned about how the family looks towards other people. She belittles her own family calling them “ragamuffins” because in her eyes they do not fit her standards. Marion does love Lady Bird; she just does not deliver how she feels in a positive manner. It is a major factor that Marion calls her Lady Bird because in a way that is her mom telling her she respects her. Marion, being in the health profession, is very supportive when Lady Bird confides in her about having sex. When Kyle and Lady Bird’s relationship fell through, her mom was there to pick up the pieces. When Marion and Lady Bird are prom dress shopping, Lady Bird asks her mother if she likes her. Marion of course loves her but wants her to be the best version of herself. Lady Bird is worried that if this is the best version of herself, that her mother will be disappointed. Lady Bird inherited very strong qualities from her mother like being determined, fierce and gritty. Those attributes helped Lady Bird find herself, and for that she will always be connected to with mother.

All of Lady Bird’s relationships with significant people in her life have shaped her into the bold young women she became. One common theme that all relationships had were that they were all fixated on financial status and Lady Bird’s denial of being from “the wrong side of the tracks.” Her parents have always struggled with finances which had made aspects of their lives difficult. Lady Bird cannot buy a magazine because her mother says, “that reading magazines are for rich people, you can go to the library if you want to read that.” Her mother always fixated on that her family needed to look put together to the public, so no one would speculate anything unusual about their family. Going to a private catholic school is expensive and the reason Lady Bird is going is so should could get a safe, good education. That puts a lot of pressure on a young woman to not only live up to keeping good grades but also comparing yourself to your peers with what materialistic items they have, and you don’t. Lady Bird felt like she constantly had to keep up with the charade. Danny, Kyle and Jenna all came from wealthy families and Lady Bird lied about aspects of her life to maintain being involved with them. She thinks that money and having a big house will bring her happiness, but it actually causes her to lie and hurt others around her. In an argument between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion compares her to a price that it costed to raise her, and it infuriates Lady Bird. Lady Bird responds back in a fast, witty way saying, “I’m gonna get older and make a lot of money and write you a check and never speak to you again.” The issue of money and coming from a household that gripes about it constantly, Lady Bird resents it. She resents money but also wants to show her family that she is worth something and will be successful. Like a phoenix coming out of the ashes, Lady Bird will rise.

At seventeen years old, Lady Bird is rejecting a lot of ideals in her life; especially Catholic Social Teaching. Lady Bird attends an all-girls Catholic high school called Immaculate Heart. She has nuns and priests as teachers, which is a unique high school experience. Lady Bird and Julie goof around during mass and morning prayer, and even eat the unconsecrated hosts. Some scenes show Lady Bird in mass not paying attention and twirling her hair; but the lessons of Jesus’ teaching stick with her deep down. Catholic Social Teaching preaches that you should find God in all things, show people compassion and kindness, respect the life and dignity of a person, call to family and community, participate in aspects of life and to help the poor and vulnerable. Lady Bird is a very true friend and will help anyone in need. She has learned how to be compassionate from school, something her family lacks. The way she sticks by Danny side after he comes out as gay to her is inspiring. In 2002, coming out as gay to family members was still taboo and the fact that Danny felt safe with her was a huge growing moment for Lady Bird. She put her ideals behind her and helped a friend in need. The head sister of Immaculate Heart, Sister Joan, encouraged Lady Bird to join the fall play; which opened her eyes to a new world. Lady Bird being the young drama queen she was, found her calling for theatre and she participated with her whole heart. Going to a Catholic school instilled a discipline and ethical judgment in Lady Bird that guided her through her young adult years.

Jesus Christ made the prediction that his Apostle, Peter, would deny that he knew him three times at the last supper. Peter pledged he would never deny Him. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:33-35). His disciples swore they wouldn’t deny him but people make mistakes, and His people let fear come before them. The first denial of Jesus was when He got arrested and the servant girl denied she knew him. The second denial happened again with the save servant girl, but the third denial was different. The third denial was with a number of people, including Peter. As Peter was denying that he knew Jesus, a rooster started to crow, and he remembered that Jesus forecasted that this would happen. According to the Gospel of John,

"You are not one of his disciples, are you?" the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, ‘I am not.’ ... As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, ‘You are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it, saying, ‘I am not.’One of the high priest's servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, ‘Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?’ Again, Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow” (John 18:13-27).

When Peter realized what he did, he wept and wept and wept. This is symbolic and parabolic with the film Lady Bird, for many reasons. Her whole life. Lady Bird just wants to leave the cultural wasteland of Sacramento. Her dream is to attend an expensive liberal arts college on the East Coast. To her, the East Coast is a haven for artists and their creative liberties. Lady Bird desperately says she “wants to live through something.” The U.S., post 9/11, was a very bleak place and Lady Bird did not feel inspired along with it. For her young adult years, all she does is deny where she is from. She doesn’t tell the truth about where she lives, she won’t let her dad drop her off in the front of the school because she’s embarrassed of their car and when she’s at her first college party she tells people she’s from San Francisco. She tries to spread her wings, but it is hard for her. As senior year rolls on, Lady Bird does start to appreciate Sacramento because it has supported her through her ups and downs. She wrote her college essays about Sacramento and Lady Bird didn’t realize how much she loved Sacramento until after Sister Joan told her. Sister Joan sat Lady Bird down in her office and told her how beautiful her homage was to Sacramento. Lady Bird denies her attachment to Sacramento, but this city has molded her into the strong woman that she become.

The last scene of Lady Bird is the most pivotal of the whole movie. Lady Bird seems all grown up as she goes to college in New York City. Her and her mother did not talk the whole summer because she didn’t want her to go to school that far, she still wanted control over her daughter. Lady Bird’s first night at college, she goes to a party and refers to herself as “Christine.” Lady Bird emotionally drinks too much and ends up in the hospital for a night, alone without her family. As she is walking back to campus, the camera shoots her from the side with a glum lowlight. Lady Bird is depressed on her way home because she is wondering how she got to this place. Ironically it is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and she stumbles upon a Catholic Church during mass. She goes in and has never felt more at home. The camera gets an eye level shot of her as she becomes the key light in the church. The school and lifestyle she rebelled against in Sacramento, was what she felt most in touch within the big apple. Lady Bird calls her parents specifically to take to her mom, to tell her that she misses her so much. Lady Bird starts the conversation off by saying, “hi mom and dad, it’s me Christine. It’s the name you gave me, it’s a good one.” She then asks her mother if she ever felt emotional when driving in Sacramento for the first time. If those bends in the road, she knew her whole life felt familiar and seeing all of the treasured spots and how it resonated with her. The scene shows Lady Bird driving through her town smiling at all of the memories she made. The connections to her school, family and friends made her town a piece of her heart. At one point, the scene shifts from Christine driving to her mother driving. This displays that no matter what, they have a bond and will be connected forever. This scene represents Christine’s life coming in full circle, to her realizing that she is grateful for the family and life she has.


(If this link doesn't work, please look up "Lady Bird end scene" 3:52)

The film Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is a tribute to all young adults trying to navigate their lives. There’s heartbreak, conflict with parents, friend drama and personal growth. Lady Bird McPherson's metamorphosis to be the beautiful, strong willed young woman is inspiring. All the setbacks she faces, propels her forward; she doesn’t let any mistake or failure set her back. Gerwig's film puts a new age feminist spin on this movie. Where the main protagonist does not need the validation from a man to make her grow as a person. Lady Bird grows because she wants to be better. Her denial of where she is from, like the Apostle Peter, makes her appreciate where she has grown up and what she has. Lady Bird, like her given name to herself by herself, is a fierce and bold young woman that won’t take no for an answer. Lady Bird is a beacon of light in the cultural wasteland of Sacramento.