Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is slowly becoming the breakout, must-see movie of the fall. The coming-of-age drama, which stars Saoirse Ronan as the titular character (her real name is Christine, but she goes by Lady Bird), landed in the top-10 at the weekend box office, grossing $2.5 million despite only playing in 238 theaters. On review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, Gerwig’s solo directorial debut has a perfect score after winding its way through the fall festival circuit. Based on the effusive praise, it seems likely people will be talking about Lady Bird all the way through next March’s 90th annual Academy Awards and beyond.
There’s a reason, of course: Lady Bird explores a teenage girl coming into her own in a quiet, beautiful way not often shown onscreen. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mom, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), felt excruciatingly real in how complicated it was — filled with love but also the frustrations of being a teenager and raising one. “We always joked that we should put up a title card at the end of the movie that said CALL YOUR MOTHER,” Gerwig told New York earlier this year.
I did Gerwig one better, not only calling my mother but taking her to see Lady Bird during a recent fall weekend in New York. Ahead, a spoiler-filled conversation with her about Lady Bird and the parallels (and differences) between its mother-daughter duo and ours.
JESSICA: First off — did you like the movie?
JESSICA’S MOM, LINDA: Yes, I really did. Did you?
So much. And a big part of why I wanted to see it a second time — and see it with you — was because of the scenes between Lady Bird and her mother. So, Mom, what were your initial impressions of Marion? Did you like her?
I thought she was really hard on her daughter, who was a good girl just trying to find her way in the world. And I related to her, but I didn’t like her — I hope I didn’t act like her when you were growing up.
No, no, you didn’t. But there are definitely those moments when you’re a teenager and you feel like your parents [insert overdramatic sigh] just don’t understand you, or are ruining your life by being mean and awful and stupid. Like, when Lady Bird and her mom were shopping for prom dresses and Lady Bird says she knows her mother loves her, but isn’t sure if she likes her? I think that’s something plenty of teens (and former teens) can relate to.
I definitely related to Marion’s frustration of feeling that the bulk of the family responsibility was on her shoulders. She was too stressed to enjoy all the “good” stuff because financial problems and working become her main focus. I think she felt that whatever she tried to do wasn’t good enough, and why couldn’t Lady Bird just appreciate what she had — that comment that Danny [Lucas Hedges’ character] made about the other side of the tracks definitely hurt her. But she was still there for her in the ways she could — so you saw those softer sides of her, too.
I definitely saw bits of myself as a teen in Lady Bird — I was also a theater kid in high school, so seeing that in the film was a total treat, but also remembering that as a time in your life where you could try on different versions of yourself to see who you want to be, and what other people respond to. Did you see any of those as well? Was I at all like Lady Bird when I was her age?
I remember, in your case, some insecurity about being friends or not with the so-called popular girls. I don’t know if you so much wanted to be their friends or just to be involved in the same activities at the high school. I remember being very busy with all your activities, and hopefully supportive of them. You wanted to do everything — dance, cheerleading, gymnastics, singing lessons. So, yeah, in that way you were a bit like Lady Bird. I thought it was very cool that you were so focused on the things you liked and took risks that involved not being the best at something. I was also impressed with how hard you worked at the things you were passionate about. And I never discouraged you from trying to follow your dreams — when you wanted to be a musical theater major in college, we went to several auditions at different schools. But overall, I had a lot of fun watching you grow up. And unlike the mom in the movie, I was proud of you.
Well, I do think Marion was proud of Lady Bird, but maybe couldn’t express it well? Or was intimidated by her daughter wanting more than she could provide for her? But that also factors into the other big part I wanted to talk about with you about — the fallout from their fight over where Lady Bird chose to go to college. That scene when they went to the airport and her mom refused to go in to see her off just killed me.
She should have been more supportive when Lady Bird got into what was basically her dream school on the East Coast. I’m sure that it was related to the fact that she applied behind her back. I was so disappointed when she didn’t go to the airport to see her off to New York. She needed to get over herself and be excited about the new chapter of her daughter’s life — not resentful or hurt because she didn’t stay home in Sacramento. It was spiteful; she was also hurting herself because when she did turn back to go into the terminal it was too late.
That voicemail message she left her mom at the end of the film, too, was such an emotional moment, and it reminded me of something that happened with us — when you and Dad dropped me off at college for my freshman year, I was being kind of a brat on your last day up there and was so eager for you guys to leave. So we said a very quick goodbye, and I went into whatever new student assembly was happening, and then it hit me that you guys were leaving, and I ran out of the room in tears to call you back and apologize. Do you remember that?
Yes, of course, I remember that. It was an emotional moment for me as well, but I didn’t want you to know it. I guess Lady Bird had that same feeling of fear — asking her mom how she felt on her first drive alone through Sacramento and telling her she loves her. Maybe then she put herself in her mom’s shoes for a minute and saw the world through her eyes with new appreciation.
Agreed. One final question — did you relate more to Lady Bird, or to Marion?
I obviously related to Marion, because as a mom we shared many of the same experiences and feelings. But I liked Lady Bird too because she wasn’t afraid to try new things and take on new challenges whether it was joining the drama club, moving across the country for school, or meeting new people. At the end of the movie, I was glad Lady Bird became Christine [began using her given name]. I think she realized she became the person she wanted to be because of her mom’s efforts and was able to see her in a different way.
Lady Bird is in theaters now.