“You should just go to City College. You know, with your work ethic just go to City College and then to jail and then back to City College and then maybe you’d learn to pull yourself up and not expect everybody to do everything.” So are the last words out of Laurie Metcalf’s mouth before her daughter, “Lady Bird” opens the door of their moving car and rolls out onto the highway. Later, on her cast, she jots down a note that lets us all know how she truly feels: “fuck you mom.” Thus the stage is set for 90 minutes of mother-teenage daughter relationship drama. Taking place over the course of her senior year of highschool, Lady Bird has its moments, but I ended up wanting a bit more from a film that starts out with a young woman voluntarily removing herself from a moving vehicle because she is mad at her mother.
The relationship between Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother Marion (Metcalf) while she is dealing with her normal teenage dramas is the heart of the film. And that is where it is at its undoubted best. The two play off each other fantastically as they navigate the minefields of their day to day interactions. “Does mom hate me?” she asks her unassuming father. “You both have such strong personalities” he replies, cutting straight to the core of it all. Marion tries, but doesn’t know how to deal with her daughter, and as we see in multiple scenes, has an easier time dealing with people at her job than her family. Lady Bird on the other hand, takes this as thinking her mother doesn’t love her, and she’s too caught up in her own life to notice how much her mother actually does for her. It’s a very relatable story told well, with many laugh out loud and tender moments sprinkled throughout.
But it’s the way that Lady Bird’s self absorbedness is handled where the film starts to come apart for me. The story jumps around quite a lot, partly to make us aware of Lady Bird’s “me first” attitude, but also out of necessity, the film covers a lot of ground time wise. Events that she was too oblvious to notice, like when the drama teacher is mysteriously (and hilariously) replaced by the football coach, just happen. As a viewer it would have been nice to get more context to these moments as they are happening, just because she chooses to keep herself at arms length, doesn’t mean we have to.
My biggest gripe about the film is that since the mother/daughter relationship is so strong, everything else almost feels superfluous. The script knows it as well, in multiple instances more time is spent with her mother in the lead up to an event than the event itself. Which is why, especially given its short runtime, I wish Lady Bird was a bit more focused. The payoff is satisfying, we just needed to spend less time on the roadside attractions.