To see or not to see: Lady Bird (2017)

By Rachel Wee (19J10) and Chloe Lim (20J04)

This is the sixth of our seven-part series called To See Or Not To See, in which we review some of our favourite films that deserve revisiting, especially in a time when it's best for us to stay at home.

If you’ve clicked on this review because you’ve always wanted to watch Lady Bird, please don’t! The following contains many spoilers and general interpretations that may be different from what you feel when watching the movie. However, if you’re reading this because you’ve seen the film and do not understand why it is so critically acclaimed, let us break it down for you!

On the surface, Lady Bird is a cliché, mediocre film that you may find tedious to watch when your favourite character isn’t on screen (let’s face it, you came for Timotheé and his gorgeous curls). After all, this seems like every other musty 2000s movie where the protagonist reunites with her best friend after breaking up with her toxic boyfriend. So, why did this film obtain a near-perfect 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes?

1. It depicts the success story many dream of, without over-glorifying it

The movie follows Lady Bird on her journey as she leaves her conservative Catholic High School life in Sacramento to move to a Liberal Arts college in New York. Like many of us, she saw the big city as a place of opportunity and freedom, and her strong will in wanting to make a bold change left us in awe of her courage. It is something that everyone has dreamt of but few have done, and by putting ourselves in her shoes, we were able to live our fantasies vicariously. However, it does so while simultaneously subverting the ‘happily ever after’ ending that one too many movies have portrayed. And this is what makes this movie so relatable. There are always two sides to a coin, and as we see Lady Bird’s realisation of her mother’s love for her from an outsider’s perspective, we are in a way forced to look into the mirror, and wonder… Are our dreams really what they seem?

A visual representation of Lady Bird leaving her hometown to start a new life

2. It is appeals to a wide demographic

This cinematic masterpiece was able to achieve an optimistic ending without caricatures or the feeling that everything was wrapped up too perfectly. Even though Greta Gerwig is almost double that of an adolescent’s age, she was able to perfectly encapsulate what it feels like to be a teenager. The protagonist’s journey of self-discovery and her realisations of the extent of class disparities successfully appeals to adolescents like us, who are in the throes of figuring ourselves out. It provides us with a glimmer of hope and form of solace that in spite of what we may be feeling now, things will eventually turn out okay. However, what sets this film apart from other coming-of-age movies is its candid portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. While the mother’s tough love may have infuriated teenagers who have had similar experiences with their own parents, it moved many adults who could empathise with her. They were mature enough to understand that it was the way she showed love and concern towards her daughter. As both audiences rooted for the character of their choice, the amicable ending was able to satisfy both sides as the protagonist realised that through their fights and bickering, her mother indeed loved her all this while.

A perfect encapsulation of their relationship

3. The story very much mirrors reality, averting the trope of the typical cheesy rom-com

When the main character of a movie is a teenager, one can often expect to witness awkward, but more importantly exciting, relationship drama. But in this movie, we witness raw, authentic emotions and problems, which riddle Lady Bird’s relationships with difficulties. Conflicting desires, neglecting close friends for a significant other, or even discovering one’s sexuality, these are just a few problems that make up the hidden side of relationships which are so often ignored in fairytale-like rom-coms.

Lady Bird’s pragmatic plot is relatable to us

4. The nostalgic setting is simply intriguing to many of us

Most of us grew up in the fast-paced city of Singapore. It is all we know. But how many times have we craved more greenery, more open spaces, and less tall buildings? Sometimes we just want some time and space to unwind, and this movie gives us 94 minutes of just that. Set in the suburbs of Sacramento, California in 2002, there is a certain sense of calm that we don’t get in the city. Perhaps it’s the quiet streets, the endless grass plains, or the big thrift store with never-ending good finds, something we can only dream about in Singapore. Whatever it is, the setting single-handedly takes us to a whole new world, and this in itself can no doubt draw in audiences in droves.

The enchanting draw of suburban life

Overall, Lady Bird is much more than a superficial portrayal of teenage life, and offers a cleverly nuanced depiction of the growing pains that everyone faces at some point. And this bare, unadorned truth is what ultimately provides comfort to audiences, young and old. It is no wonder that Lady Bird is so highly-acclaimed and well loved by its viewers.

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