Aching Girlhood

The titular character in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird (2017), gave herself her own name. So did I.

Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is auditioning for her high school’s musical when the drama director asks her if “Lady Bird” is her given name. She responds, “I gave it to myself. It’s given to me by me.”

My name-giving story is dissimilar from Lady Bird’s in that, instead of being a rebellious adolescent yearning for East Coast ~cool~ and independence, I was a waddling toddler who couldn’t pronounce the “dsey” in Lindsey. So, I went with Linne. Similarly, though, my self-given name has stuck mostly because it feels more authentically “me” than the name given to me by my parents.

The film is largely about the relationships we have with our parents as we grow into our own versions of adulthood—the things they’ve given us and the things they haven’t. Lady Bird’s relationship with her mom takes on a central role—depicting the well-worn tensions deeply known by mothers and daughters that hinge on a combination of both unreasonable dislike and unconditional love. When Lady Bird’s mother (Laurie Metcalf) attempts to find reason for the strict, oftentimes harsh, nature with which she approaches her daughter, she says, “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”

“What if this is the best version?” Lady Bird responds.

The relationship between Lady Bird and her mom isn’t the only relationship the film gives time to. Gerwig gives due attention to friendships between high school girls, brothers and sisters, first loves, and fathers and daughters.

As a white girl from the suburbs of Ohio, I fell in love with Lady Bird because, quite selfishly, I saw my story in hers. I have not felt this level of emotional recognition with a fictional character in a long, long while, possibly not since my first viewing of Claire Danes’ portrayal of Angela Chase in the television series My So-Called Life. Actually, Lady Bird feels deeply indebted to My So-Called Life’s loving, almost achingly suburban realism.

When Lady Bird loses her virginity to a Marx-quoting softboy and says, “I just wanted it to be special,” I know what she means. I, too, share with Lady Bird the specific anxiety of opening a college decision letter, fighting with my mom in a store dressing room, and missing home so much I could cry.

Technically speaking and in terms of revolutionary content, there is nothing remarkable about Lady Bird. Sometimes you don’t need an academic reason to love something. I love Lady Bird because it felt honest, and my particular world-view made me susceptible to this honesty in a way that felt physically jarring. In the final moments of the film, Lady Bird, AKA Christine McPherson, is standing alone on a city street, missing Sacramento. But, she could be Linne Halpern, AKA Lindsey Halpern, standing alone on a city street, missing Cleveland, missing her mom, aching for both the future and for the way things used to be. –Linne Halpern

Linne Halpern '18 is an English and American Studies double major at Wesleyan University. She is co-founder and editor of Reverberations.

Lady Bird
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
Runtime: 93 Min.

Rating: R