Scenes From A Life – Lady Bird

Throughout the course of our lives, we consume countless amounts of media. Sometimes mindlessly, and sometimes with baited breath. I live for the moments when I come across something that really hits me to my core. When I discover something that I know even during the discovery, that it will stick with me for my entire life- or change me from that moment on. Something that makes me really feel something. So, I’ve decided to share some of these moments in a series of short pieces, taking a closer look at scenes from film and TV that have greatly impacted me and my life. Scenes that I think are largely underrated, and are very much worth me gushing over them for a couple hundred words. 

First to the table is the 2017 Golden Globe winner Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig. The film follows Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) senior year of high school, focusing mainly on her college applications and her tumultuous relationship with her mother. The film took an impressive $79 million at the box office, as well as receiving an overwhelmingly positive critical reception. It was also nominated for five Oscar’s at the 90th Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, and best original screenplay, though it sadly did not win any of its nominations- much to my great disappointment. But not bad for a directorial debut, right?

I can’t remember when I first saw the trailer for the film, but once I had I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I pestered friends to go see it with me for weeks; “what’s it about?” they always asked. I’d stayed away from reviews, not wanting to spoil the film for myself. “I think it’s just about her life” I always told them. No one seemed interested, so eventually I dedicated my next free afternoon to going to see the film on my own. I bought a ticket and was seated right in the middle of the middle row. The trailers played, and a few people filled in, but not too many. I’d say the theatre was about half full. A nice old couple sat next to me. They offered me some M&M’s. 

From the very first scene I knew this film was… well, at the time I didn’t know what. But it was something. From the get-go Gerwig makes it clear what the film is going to be about, and Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf (who plays Lady Bird’s mother, Marion) lay the groundwork perfectly for the kind of mother-daughter dynamic we’re in for. But I’m not here to talk about the opening scene. I’m hearing to talk about a scene that happens much later in the movie. Let’s call it the thrift store scene. 

In this scene, Lady Bird and her mother are shopping in a thrift store for her prom dress. The scene begins, and Marion is waiting outside the changing rooms, talking to her daughter through the doors. Throughout the film, both Lady Bird and Marion are often tactless in the way they talk to each other, as well as their conversations operating on multiple levels. They talk over each other, have two conversations at the same time, and rapidly change the overall mood of not just the conversation they’re having but of the scene as well. Ronan and Metcalf’s performances were near perfect from where I was sitting in the cinema- and they still are now. The way they talk and interact with each other is one of the most realistic representations of a mother-daughter relationship I have ever seen on screen, and is the main reason why the movie as a whole resonates with me so much.

Back to the scene in question. The moment it really started to resonate with me is when Lady Bird emerges in a second dress, excitingly stating it’s perfection. 

Here is when the actors’ performances really elevated this scene to a whole different level. It’s clear from the look on her face when she emerges from the changing room that Lady Bird loves the dress, and her whole demeanour changes when Marion doesn’t instantly approve. Her shoulder’s slump and she turns away in defeat, silently retreating back into the changing room. Ronan’s complete 180 in this scene is a perfect example of just how much even the slightest gesture from a parent can massively impact their child.

Marion realises her error but is still defensive- her default when it comes to her daughter. There’s a moment of silence as she falters, a mix of frustration and hesitation clear on her face as she hoovers outside the changing room, hands slightly raised as she fumbles for the words. At this moment, Marion seems to realise that despite her daughters tough exterior, Lady Bird wants her mother’s approval. Due to their complex relationship however, Marion is unsure of how to provide it without upsetting her daughters fickle nature. As their conversations usually happen at such a rapid-fire rate, this lapse of silence allows a moment for them both to process how they feel in that moment. For a change, we get to see Marion searching for the right words rather than just launching into a rebuke without thought.

This single page of dialogue is why this scene has stuck with me so much. Lady Bird’s rare moment of honesty coupled with Marion’s slight misunderstanding is such a compelling and raw moment for me. How Ronan and Metcalf responded to the script and chose to represent their characters during this amazing moment really makes it a powerful scene within the film’s narrative. 

There’s a moment where the anger rises in both of their voices, and for a second the conversation could once again devolve into one of their arguments. But instead, both slow their speech, highlighting the importance of the moment. Lady Bird falters at the beginning of her sentence a few times. She is hesitant to admit in her own words that she wants Marion’s approval. Ronan takes the emphasis from the script, and even though she isn’t on screen, really delivers the line with a childlike innocence and an undeniable fear of rejection. “I wish that you liked me.” For me, this was such a powerful line. I felt myself tearing up in the cinema. I think it’s something that all kids who have a complicated relationship with a parent have wondered. Do you like me? Marion closes her eyes with a sigh. 

Her answer is one I expected. “Of course I love you.” But that’s not what Lady Bird asked. It’s interesting that from Metcalf’s performance, we can interpret her response as either Marion misunderstanding the question, or as her avoiding it. Looking at the script, a majority of this scene is without specific performance direction. This is all how Ronan and Metcalf have developed their characters and worked with each other in the scene. The question is a very impactful way of highlighting Lady Bird’s self-doubt as well her deep want for her mothers approval. 

She emerges from the changing room to repeat her question, shoulders slumped and expression timid. Marion hesitates once again before stating “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be”. I think by this point the tears had almost definitely fallen. Even now, trying to describe why this moment of the scene struck me so hard is difficult. For the most part I think it is just personal experience- but an experience that is shared by a lot of girls growing up. At that moment, I felt as though I was recognised not just by the actors on screen but Gerwig as well for writing such a narrative. The script itself had a working title of Mothers & Daughters– an apt title for a story that explores one of the most defining relationships in a person’s life. This scene is a prime example of the film’s central themes, and is brilliantly done by Gerwig, Ronan, and Metcalf.  

And it’s not over yet. “What if this is the best version?” Lady Bird asks. Marion’s response is pictured below. 

With a slight cock of the head and a dip of the chin, Marion gives her a look. I cried even harder, and the old couple I was sitting next to in the cinema laughed. To them- likely parents themselves- that look was amusing. Maybe they’d even given that look before. But for me, it was devastating, just as it is to Lady Bird who once again quietly retreats into the changing room. Looking at the script, the scene ends with Lady Bird’s final earnest question. There’s nothing written down about that look, and I don’t know if it was Gerwig’s directorial instructions or Metcalf’s acting alone, but either way that one look- and Lady Bird’s reaction- had me crying so intensely that the old couple who found that moment so funny offered me a tissue. 

The Atlantic writer David Sims said it perfectly in his own analysis of this scene, writing of that crucial moment: 

“Marion looks at her askance, saying more in a glance than any piece of dialogue could. Believe me, it’s not, she’s thinking. But also, It had better not be. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and heartfelt, an entire relationship captured in a look, for better or worse.”

David Sims, The Atlantic

It’s interesting to consider those perspectives. Perhaps years and years from now I’ll revisit the movie and resonate more with Marion’s character than Lady Bird’s. I’ve been badgering my own mother to watch this movie, keen to know her thoughts but also slightly apprehensive. I see myself in Lady Bird not just because of her relationship with her mother but also because of her struggle to find and explore her identity. She casts aside her own name- Christine- and gives herself a new one in a struggle to become her own person. That journey is very much her own, but we see through the events of the film how that desperate search for who she is affects the people around her. Marion wants Lady Bird to find herself I think, but she also wants her daughter to consider what’s around her as well as what’s inside of her.

This whole movie has a special place in my heart, but this scene in particular cemented the movie as something that is deeply important to me. I’ve always had a soft spot for coming of age stories, but Lady Bird was the first time I felt as though I saw myself represented in that narrative, from the familial relationships, to the struggle of teenage identity, and also the longing to escape small town life whilst yearning for the simplicity it provides. 

So if you haven’t yet, watch Lady Bird! I hope that it resonates as strongly with you as it did with me.

Next on Scenes From Life: Fleabag – The Confession Booth scene

References & Further Reading:

A Memorable Mother-Daughter Talk in Lady Bird – The Atlantic: David Sims

Lady Bird Is a Sensational Paean to Teenage Life – The Atlantic: David Sims

Greta Gerwig Explains How Much of Her Charming Coming-of-Age Film ‘Lady Bird’ Was Inspired By Her Own Youth – Indiewire: Kate Erbland

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