By Emily Zou
In my last post on Obachan’s Garden, a Japanese-Canadian documentary, I wrote about how focusing on the stories of mothers and grandmothers is important in disrupting the way that we remember our history and ancestry. For this week’s post, I’d like to write more locally about the wonderful way that a mother-daughter relationship is explored in Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film Lady Bird.
You’ve probably heard of Lady Bird, which made waves three years ago for its painful authenticity; Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut went on to score five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, and Actress. The consensus is clear: Lady Bird has brought together a ridiculously charming cast and created a captivating vision of Sacramento, all with some of the funniest and most heartbreaking dialogue committed to the screen.
But motherhood and daughterhood is the movie. In fact, the original draft for the film was titled Mothers and Daughters. The title Lady Bird instead refers to the name that our heroine, Christine (Sairose Ronan) chooses for herself, a perfect example of how eclectically rebellious she is. Desperate to fly to the east coast, to find “real culture”, Lady Bird follows Christine in her senior year of high school, as she falls in and out of love, smokes weed, gets into college, passes her driving test and performs in musicals. All the while, she fights with her mother, Marion, (Laurie Metcalf), a father dealing with depression, and coming to terms with her family’s status in a class-stratified society.
While ruminating on having to talk to people about creating her film, Gerwig remarks in a 2017 NPR interview that “most of those people are men. And if they were raised with sisters or if they had daughters, they knew what it was… But if they didn’t, they had no idea that that was how women fought and how they loved, too. I think it was kind of like they were getting to look into a world that they didn’t know existed”. As more women take the helm in moviemaking, stories that only we can tell come to light and are shared. And its movies like Lady Bird, that capture how beautifully painful leaving home and loving it only after you do so, can be. It’s a story that honors motherhood and our homes that was created because of the women’s own experiences.
There’s one scene that really sums up what makes this film so special to me, it goes something like this: Christine is talking about her college essay with a nun, she wrote it about Sacramento, and the nun remarks that you can tell how much she loves the town. No, Christine replies, I hate this place, I just pay attention, but the nun asks, gently, “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Cut to her Mom, anxiously waiting for her in a thrift store.
See, love is not always gentle, is not always understandable. But the best love is often the kind that perseveres even when it’s not easy, even when it’s not wanted. The realest loves are embarrassing and irritating and overcritical, but you have to love something a lot to believe in it. To love someone not because they are worth loving but because they are someone.
Lady Bird is painful to watch because it’s real. Gerwig has tapped into this very egocentric teenage stream of worries and worries. You change so much in adolescence; you’re in a constant state of shame for some past iteration of yourself and how earnest you were in being that version of you. You’re always cringing because of the things you forgot to love properly or for the things that you didn’t appreciate enough. And of course, you think you know everything, especially once you realize that you don’t.
And so after seeing a version of you (a teenager) portrayed on screen, you have to take a moment to step back from being caught up in your own head and your own worries. You take note of your surroundings, the home you take for granted, and then the people that have become part of your home.
I remember talking about Lady Bird with my mom after we watched it; we were hiking up a mountain and she was displeased that I had watched a movie that deals with sex and homosexuality. She didn’t like it, and in trying to explain why it touched me, I found that there were tears in my eyes as I tried to describe the raw, heartrending ending scene. She pointed out the traitorous evidence of my emotions and laughed at me.
And I guess its moments like that that prove Lady Bird’s point. Gerwig quipped “I don’t know any woman who has a simple relationship with their mother or with their daughter”, and the very messy way we love our mothers and daughters comes across so effectively in her movie.
I don’t even know if I will even be going to campus in the fall (I’ll be a freshman), but I have become acutely aware of this strange, liminal space that I float in, still at home but not really belonging to it anymore. We owe such an existential, unpayable gratitude to our mothers for all of the trouble they went to allow us to live our little lives. I don’t really talk to my mom much these days, but even when we do, whatever I say never seems to be enough to capture just how deeply I am in her debt. How do you even begin to walk around all of the unsaid things?
I haven’t the faintest clue. But I’ll place my faith in whoever is penning my coming of age story, hoping that they’re as fond of me as Gerwig was of Christine. That it’ll all turn out okay, that I’ll finally have the courage to say Thank you.
(Even if it’s only when I’m 460 miles away).