Film Review : Ladybird

At this year’s New York Film Festival, Greta Gerwig, writer/director of Ladybird, asked the crowd, “What is Boyhood, but for a girl? What is The 400 Blows, but for a girl? What is personhood for young women?” Ladybird fits somewhere in between both of those films, while remaining singularly unique. Saoirse Ronan’s Christine, or Ladybird as she prefers to be called (prefers is a generous word, more like demands), is in her senior year at an all-girls Catholic School in Sacramento. It would be a mistake to call her a troublemaker or a ‘bad girl’. Gerwig is far too nuanced in her writing to create a female character that could categorized as such. But unlike Mason in Boyhood, Ladybird is uneasy and angry. She is angry with her mother who can’t afford to send her to the East Coast for college, she is angry with her hometown of Sacramento because it’s not New York, with the drama teacher that won’t cast her as the lead in the school musical, etc. But if the anger manifests as resentment, it also manifests as ambition. In order to self-realize, Ladybird must leave California.

Watching the film as a young woman myself is to experience of nostalgia, albeit recent nostalgia. To laugh at the private school educated boy who pridefully declares that he “hates money”, and at the way Ladybird dreams of going to college in New York even though she's never been there. What makes Ladybird so rich is the personal detail in every scene. The way she writes her crush’s name on her wall, only to cross it out once the fling has ended, or how she cries while listening to The Grapes of Wrath audiobook in the car with her mother.

Although the film covers many relationships (boyfriends, best friend, the girl you pretend is your best friend for a month), the one that resonates the most is her relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). The relationship is more than just troubled, it is borderline abusive. On both ends. Ladybird is selfish and doesn’t understand her family’s financial situation, and Marion is unsympathetic to her daughter’s desire to leave her hometown. There have been many on-screen mother/daughter relationships. But many of those portrayals result in the death of either family member (Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment), or are the subject of horror films (Carrie). Cinema is ill at ease at how to present mother/daughter relationships that aren’t tragic or destructive. Ladybird breathes life into the relationship.  

Though following the senior year of mostly one character, Ladybird is very wide in its scope, perhaps to a fault. The film packs so much into its 90 minute running time, that there is scarce room to breathe. Going from scene, to short montage, to scene, the film doesn’t linger on moments for very long. This is part of the reason why the final scene is such a masterpiece of writing and editing. Ladybird’s voicemail to her mother is juxtaposed with flashbacks of both her mother and herself driving in Sacramento. I have never been to Sacramento, but I couldn’t help but cry at the sight of a landscape I already felt nostalgic for.


Photo Credit: A24, Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird