The bad choices we made and regrets we all have from our teenage years could probably fill the pages of anyone's memoir. Adolescence is the time during which we change the most, grow the most, and learn the most, but that growth doesn't come without mistakes that at the time can feel epically devastating. And the new movie Lady Bird, the solo directorial debut from actor, writer, and filmmaker Greta Gerwig, absolutely nails that feeling. The film, out now, explores the wild ride of the final year of high school through the eyes of a determined, flawed young woman, and it manages to capture the cycle of teenage mistake-forgive-repeat to absolute perfection. Through its depiction of that confusing, frustrating year in the life of a college-bound senior, Lady Bird reminds us all that it's OK to make mistakes, as long as we can learn from them and forgive both ourselves and each other.
Set in Sacramento, California in 2002-2003, Lady Bird stars Brooklyn's Saoirse Ronan as a teen named Christine, who has chosen to go by the moniker Lady Bird instead. "Given to myself, by myself," she declares on stage during an audition for the school musical. Lady Bird attends an all-girls Catholic high school on financial scholarship and lives, as she puts in, on the wrong side of the tracks. Her parents aren't wealthy, but her fellow classmates are, and the family's lack of affluence creates incredible stress for her parents that Lady Bird doesn't yet comprehend. She wants to head to college on the East Coast, but doesn't quite have the grades or the cash to get herself there and feels, like any teenager feels: trapped. Trapped in her school, her house, and her life. So, in response, she decides to make some changes, but unsurprisingly, they don't always work out the way she's planned.
Many of Lady Bird's bad choices are ones we all made when facing the intense pressure of high school. She joins the drama club to pad her college applications with more extracurriculars, but complains when she doesn't get the lead in the school musical, despite her her heart never really being in it. She dates the wrong guys — one a darling theater boy in the closet, the other an insufferable intellectual who thinks far too highly of himself. She fights with her family and lies her way into the "popular crowd," much to the detriment of her other relationships. Her biggest mistake is probably alienating her best friend, Julie (a luminous Beanie Feldstein), for no reasons other than feeling restless and wanting to fit in.
But the wonderfully moving thing about the film is that it doesn't create devastation out of Lady Bird's mistakes. Of course, we all felt like the world was ending when something went wrong back when we were teenagers, especially during that time between high school and college when everything feels so intense. Be it a breakup, a friend doing something awful behind your back, or rejection from your No. 1 college, it all seemed like the apocalypse. As teens, we had a hard time seeing the world ahead of us, as everything felt so in the moment, so now; when it wasn't going perfectly, our lives felt ruined. Often, Lady Bird herself feels that way, but the film shows us her angst with a comic twist and air of adulthood that allows viewers to look upon the situations she finds herself in not with pity, but with fond memory of our own past similar issues.
And it isn't just Lady Bird who spends the film making mistakes. Her mother Marion (a fantastic Laurie Metcalf), with whom Lady Bird has a tumultuous relationship, is guilty of some of her own, as well. Marion forgets how intensely teenage feelings can consume her daughter, and even with years of experience behind her, she can be just as biting and bitter to Lady Bird as Lady Bird is to her. It's a relationship many mothers and daughters have before realizing they're so incredibly similar, and Marion's realizations prove that we can learn from our bad choices even as adults. The duo's ability to, eventually and reluctantly, forgive one another becomes one of the most satisfying and touching elements of the movie.
There are plenty of teen movies out there that tackle either the high school or college experience, for sure, but Lady Bird's unique examination of that flux period between high school and college and the choices we make that define our lives feels like a rarity in the movies, despite it being such an important time. How many of us changed our name, our looks, or our interests like a switch when leaving home and landing in our freshman year of school? It's such a universal feeling for many, and Lady Bird brings that resonance home hard.
If only we knew at the time that our teenage mistakes weren't the end of the world. But that's the beauty of Lady Bird, a film that makes us all look back on adolescent angst with fondness, not regret. And for young women in that period now, maybe heading into their senior year or just starting out their freshman year of college, the movie sends a great message: Your choices don't have to be perfect, your mistakes can be teaching tools, and forgiveness, even if hard to come to terms with, can be a cathartic way of moving on.