What Lady Bird gets right about mothers and daughters

Greta Gerwig's Oscar-nominated Lady Bird will remind you of the good, bad and ugly aspects of mother-daughter relationships. So, naturally, you should see it together.

Watching Lady Bird was like watching a highlight reel of every petty fight I had with my mother when I was a teenager.

Maybe we can write it off as puberty blues, but no issue was too small for a full-blown screaming match when I was 16.

Me: "Don't go in my room!"

Mum: "Actually, it's my room. Unless you want to start paying rent?"


Me: "Why are we having rissoles for dinner? I don't even like rissoles!"

Mum: "You liked them last week..."


Mum: "Can you wash your dishes, please?"

Me: "Why can't I just sit down for five minutes?!?!"

...And so on. 

So, Lady Bird was a mixture of cringe-inducing shame and heart-warming nostalgia for me.

The latest masterpiece from 34-year-old writer/director Greta Gerwig is a coming-of-age story about 17-year-old Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson - a Catholic school girl struggling against the ordinariness of suburban life and the lack of freedom felt by most teenagers on the cusp of adulthood.

Lady Bird's resistance to her childhood is in full swing: she yearns for phsyical distance (her dream is  to got to college on the other side of the country) and desperately tries to burn any bridges that hint at parental dependency (she even rejects her parent-given name, Christine, in favour of the more ostentatious Lady Bird).

The challenge facing Lady Bird's mum, Marion, is parenting her spirited daughter, whose desperate independence-seeking looks more like the acting out of an ungrateful brat. 

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24

Marion is passive aggressive and tightly wound but, honestly, who can blame her? She's the sole income earner in a house of five, the main disciplinary parent and the doer of all domestic chores - mate, she has my sympathy!

But when you're 17, your mum is more like a sweet ball and chain, whose attempts to be helpful are, well, a real drag. (Sorry, mum. Love you.)

In Lady Bird, Gerwig nails the crux of this conflict. 

In fact, she captures almost all of the classic mother-daughter arguments with disturbing accuracy.

There's the fight about not appreciating a home-cooked meal ("why don't you make it yourself then?"), an untidy room ("I'll clean it in the morning!") and, most accurately, a fight in a fitting room ("You're going to give me an eating disorder!").

Side note: If you are a woman - better yet, a woman who has parented another woman - you will know all-too-well that shopping trips are fraught adventures, at best. Changing rooms are veritable minefields of insecurity, threatening to explode at the slightest misplaced hemline or throw-away comment. (In this case, it's Marion's: "Well, I suggested you not have that second helping of pasta.")

Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird. Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24

Throughout the movie, Lady Bird and Marion fluctuate between gorgeous intimacy and ugly, highly relatable bickering. 

But of course, like many loving mother-daughter relationships, it promises to graduate to something truly special, a very unique brand of love and friendship.

So, if you're lucky enough to have your mum or daughter around this weekend, take her to see Lady Bird. Hopefully you'll be able to laugh, cringe and cry together in the face of an artwork that understands what it's like to be both a parent and a child.

Lady Bird is rated M, and is recommended for audiences over the age of 15. It's in Australian cinemas now. 

[Feature image courtesty of A24]

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