Why Lady Bird is an Important Movie

By: Leah Klahr  |  March 15, 2018

In many ways, the award-winning movie “Lady Bird” is not so different from the classic Hollywood coming-of-age story: “Lady Bird,” the movie’s protagonist, is a high school senior who attends a Catholic school in Sacramento and struggles with family, friendship, college admissions, and, as expressed in a poignant scene set in a thrift-shop dressing room, being the “best version of herself” and figuring out what that even means. But at the same time, “Lady Bird” also drastically departs from the classic Hollywood coming-of-age story. Partly, this is because of the movie’s artful and precise filming, plot, and dialogue, but also, because for once, it is the coming-of-age story of a woman.

According to a “Lady Bird” review in Times Magazine, “Lady Bird” is “one of the few Best Picture nominees to take a teenage girl’s interior life seriously.” While there have been countless movies dedicated to the angst and discovery of adolescence, few movies have explored these themes through the life of a girl. In a CNN interview, Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird’s” writer and producer explained, “I wanted the central story to be a love story between a mother and a daughter. I wanted this story of a mother letting go, and a daughter coming of age–I wanted to give it as much weight as we give to male stories, as much weight as we give to a man’s coming of age, and a man’s conflict with his father. And I think we give those [stories] a lot of seriousness and space, and I thought, ‘Well, we should do the same for a woman’s story.’”

And that’s just the sort of story that “Lady Bird” is. With humor and empathy, it captures the messy, gray, still love-filled parts of a mother-daughter relationship, and also of family, friendship, and self-discovery. In 2005, the film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe the quirky, free-spirited female character that “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of the sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” “Lady Bird” turns this image on its head; with nuance and precision, it explores the ups and downs and inner world of its female protagonist, who is both quirky and free-spirited, and very much a character who exists in and of herself.

Commenting on the significance of the movie, Racheli Moskowitz, SCW ‘19, shared with The Observer, “It’s so refreshing to see a narrative of a girl just exploring herself. There’s no grand adventure or romance–its herself she’s exploring throughout the picture. There’s something so honest and truthful about it; no bells or whistles–it’s struggles and journeys we can all relate to.” Golda Aharon, SCW ‘18, explained that what impressed  her about “Lady Bird” is the way that it captures the “holistic truth” that “a young person’s life is not defined by one factor alone, be it his or her college acceptances, relationship with parents, religious devotion, or romantic status. Instead, audiences watched a girl navigate multiple parts of her life that define her identity in different shades.”

“Lady Bird’s” cinematic success–it was nominated for five Academy Awards, received the Golden Globes “Best Motion Picture” Award, and was rated one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review–conveys its achievement of seriously exploring the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl on screen. However, “Lady Bird’s” success also marks an important moment for female movie directors. Gerwig, who received a nomination for “Best Director” at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, is only the fifth woman to be nominated in the Academy Awards’ 90 year history. According to Times Magazine, “Gerwig has at once become her own success story and a symbol of the future of storytelling–of the not-so-radical notion that we may, perhaps even soon, get to stop qualifying director with female.” “You just look forward to the day when it doesn’t mean anything,” stated Gerwig on the significance of her nomination.