Saoirse Ronan Pulls An Ellen Page In “Lady Bird:” A Critical Exchangecore

Growing up is hard to do. Set in the sleepy suburbs of Sacramento, Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” really captures the anxiety and angst involved in shedding your adolescence and plunging into adulthood. With a previously unachieved score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (but a 94% on Metacritic), this film has cemented first-time director Greta Gerwig firmly in the Indie Hall Of Fame. Filmcore’s Armani Barron and new contributor Peter Campbell weigh in below.

Armani: Now right off the bat, I’m going to say that while I enjoyed this movie, I’m not quite sure I’m as in love with it as most of America/the world is. I feel like we already have a lot of films about the white, female, suburban experience and this film didn’t necessarily deliver anything that movies like “Juno” or “Whip It” didn’t (both coincidentally with Ellen Page as the lead). 

At this point in our country’s history, I don’t know if I’m on board with movies that don’t challenge the audience. I’m not saying I needed this to be Gerwig’s “Shawshank Redemption.” But shows like Netflix’s “Chewing Gum” definitely push the female-fronted comedic envelope more than “Lady Bird” and has not received the same amount of praise. I hate to bring up white mediocrity, but in some ways, this is the classic case of how that is awarded in our current society.

What did you think of the overall themes? Did anything in this film particularly stand out to you?

Peter: I was a fan of the “year in the life” approach, and during the movie when I realized what it was doing in that way I got excited, because it made me think “I’m going to have a lot more time with these characters”.  I think what it did really successfully was create a setting and a group of people that you wanted to follow.  Also, the mother/daughter relationship is something that I’d disagree with you as something being explored in Ellen Page movies like “Juno” or “Whip It” (it’s been a while since I’ve seen “Whip It,” though).  I know people who I’ve told to go see this movie because that very specific mother/daughter relationship that’s very full of love but tension and emotional dissonance is super real for a lot of people.  I’ve seen similar things explored with men in coming of age movies, but not so much with women.  

One thing I liked kind of in spite of myself knowing it wasn’t approached with the most dexterity was the love letter to Sacramento aspect. I’ll admit right up front it’s because I spent ten years as a kid in Sacramento suburbs and there was a lot of stuff that rang true.  That being said – it’s a theme that I don’t think was hugely prevalent until certain moments where it almost seemed like the script had exhausted other themes.  The main themes seem to be Sacramento’s influence, the mother/daughter relationship, and our hero Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) trying to be true to herself.  And the juggling of all of them does come off as slightly haphazard sometimes.  I was almost caught off guard by how much the “Sacramento is so important to you” stuff was pushed in the last part of the movie.  

Here’s a question for you though: do you have this feeling like instead of three acts, there were four?  I don’t really know why exactly that number specifically, but it felt like that last section of the movie was unexpectedly long and definitely not part of the climax.  It was like a really extended epilogue.

Armani: I definitely agree with the mother/daughter relationship (this was echoed in “Whip It” — another coming-of-age feature debut by a great actress — but not to the same degree). In a lot of ways, it reminds me of my relationship with my mother. I wanted to go away to a fancy art school and she was 10000% against it. I think my mother, like Mrs. Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf), ultimately wants the best for her daughter, even if her own personal flaws get in the way. I think a big part of the reason she didn’t want Lady Bird to try to get into an expensive school is that she was ashamed they couldn’t afford it. This embarrassment and guilt was then transferred into some sort of misguided resentment towards Lady Bird sometimes. It’s also important to remember that our parents love us, but they often don’t, nor or they obligated to really like us. If my mom wasn’t my mom would she and I be friends? Honestly probably not. And that is a truth rarely explored. 

I also agree that the first three acts were the strongest. I’m not sure if we needed the end where she goes to a college party and wakes up in that hospital from alcohol poisoning. But then, would we have gotten that heartfelt thank you? Did we need it? Did her mother deserve it? If anything Marion owed Christine, aka Lady Bird, an apology, not the other way around. Also, I felt like the setting of NYC was so jarring in contrast to sort of the pseudo-suburban beach town vibe of the rest of the movie. I felt like it definitely took me out of the nostalgic hometown vibe that was working so well for the rest of the movie. 

I was also a little disappointed with how they handled Lady Bird’s best friend Julie. The whole even more awkward sidekick dilemma is definitely a tired trope. Jenna just kind of existed when the plot/Lady Bird needed her to. Which I can be chalked up to being a reflection of Lady Bird’s self-absorption, but that feels generous. Did you feel like the character was a wash? 

Also, I was bummed that the popular girl, Jenna, turned out to be just another foil character. When Lady Bird first defends her friendship with her to Julie, I genuinely hoped that Jenna would surprise us. However, when she finds out that Lady Bird lied about being rich, she writes her off in a cliche popular girl way. It doesn’t do any service to Odeya Rush who is already an actor/writer/director in her own right. 

Peter: I don’t know, I definitely bought her response to Lady Bird lying about that.  She says, “I can’t even begin to think of why someone would lie about that,” in a way that to me legitimately hints that she wouldn’t have really cared if Lady Bird had said where she really lived in the first place.  Finding out someone you’ve been hanging out with for a while has been lying about every other thing about them for the entire time is really jarring and her grudging response of “I guess we’ll still hang out”, but mostly because LB was dating her friend, was very real to me, I would say a cliché response would be more like “oh my god who ARE you?? what a loser” etc etc.  

Jenna’s role in the movie makes sense to me, the element of class really plays a big role in Lady Bird’s journey of being comfortable with herself (and if there’s one thing I liked about that last quarter of the flick, it showed that the journey is by no means over – she’s still lying about where she’s from, still trying to be cool, but it’s getting more inwardly exhausting as she gets tired of her own compulsions).  Lady Bird wants a LOT out of life – but money causes most of the obstacles in her way, and she sees the way not having it negatively affects her whole family.  I think a big part of what she’s learning in the movie is to separate big goals and what she wants from just being around people that HAVE a lot.  Around the middle of the movie is the peak of her equating “people that have a lot” (status, wealth, good families, big houses) with her own goals of being exceptional and rising above her own upbringing.  Danny, the first boyfriend, is the beginning of the journey down that rabbit hole, and Jenna is an extension of it.  I wasn’t disappointed with Jenna’s character.  There really just are some pretty uninteresting people you meet along the way, that maybe you hang around because of what they represent.  I’ve been guilty of that in the past.  And then you wake up and you’re like “whoah, these people are REALLY boring”.

One thing I was disappointed by, and again, it’s something that pops up in that last 4th, is Lady Bird’s relationship with her own faith.  In that last quarter suddenly we become aware that she actually at least thinks about: Sacramento, and religion.  She says to that guy: “people won’t even believe in god, but they’ll do x y and z”, and she may be drunk, but it’s like…suddenly we’re wondering “wait does she actually believe in god?” and you realize that the topic is never even remotely broached the rest of the movie.  It comes off really confusing, because she has that moment in the church that leads to her calling her mom.  I feel like, realistically, what Greta Gerwig was trying to do was have Lady Bird go through that mental journey herself, realizing after all of high school that her upbringing is important to her, but I don’t think it was executed flawlessly. I’m pretty sure that it’s all supposed to mean no, she doesn’t believe in god, but she spent all this time running from Sacramento and her own upbringing and then she realizes that it all matters and is important to her.  But I didn’t FEEL that way during the movie.  It was kind of confusing and I think there should have been more seeds leading to those realizations through out the rest of it.  

Armani: That’s a great point. We definitely don’t spend enough time talking about her faith even though she attended a Catholic school and to have her suddenly defend her beliefs at the end did feel a little shoe horned in. 

However, despite its flaws I still give “Lady Bird” *** out of **** stars. Although it didn’t really take any risks, I would still add it to my “coming of age” movie rotation. What would you give it?

Peter: I thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiink I’d also go with a *** stars out of ****.  I want to go watch it again so that seems like a pretty good indicator that it’s a solid B.  

Armani: Well the jury is in on “Lady Bird.” While extremely heartwarming, it falls short of any groundbreaking revelations in the coming of age genre. If anyone has any suggestions for the next Exchangecore feel free to leave a comment below, on Facebook, or Twitter!

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