Why Lady Bird is so brilliant

Image credit: Hagerty Ryan

I was an hour into the purgatory that is the social media loop - Facebook… Instagram… Tinder… begrudgingly jumping from my ex’s recently added friends on Facebook to those dreaded words that had become ubiquitous on Saturday night in Cambridge: ‘there’s no-one new around you’, waiting, half with desire, half with hope that it will finally end, for another man who sophisticatedly provides both height and penis measurements, to pop up upon my screen.

I flung my phone onto my bed and sat purposefully at my laptop, refreshing Facebook. 

A new article appeared by the ASOS ads: ‘How to Be Single During the Holidays’. I clicked on the article, ironically and skimmed through… “Anxiety-inducing”… “major mental turmoil”… “opt out”… a final, apologetic suggestion: “Friendsgiving, anyone?”

Where were the hungover brunches? The rowdy nights where one glass of mulled wine leads to whisky shots, and you find yourself in Soho’s Harmony Store at 1am, testing vibrators? And, where however problematic it may be, was Love Actually?

And then, my eyes fixed on the final last words.

“The holidays will pass, and you'll be fine. And in the meantime, there's always eggnog to get you through.”

Christmas will “pass”? I will be “fine”? Was my newly single life to be one of ‘staying strong’, powering through, allowing a month where it is acceptable to drink before 11am and watch back to back Sex and the City pass me by, as I wait for another boyfriend?

What frustrated me so much about this article was something that had been increasingly irritating me over the last few months. Every time I nestled under my duvet to watch a movie or walked solo listening to music, the same message would reappear: love will save the day, and in the mean time, being alone would mean being lonely. Why is romantic love portrayed as transcendental, whilst all other sorts of love fade into the background?

This is why Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is so spectacular. Romantic love with sexual partners does not take the limelight of this film: a clumsy first kiss and a jolty, short-lasting sexual experience are certainly not the pinnacle of passion and joy. Where Gerwig succeeds is in making these encounters so funny, yet there is a part of all of us - our fifteen year old selves - who is secretly exhilarated by them. At fifteen, I would not have been laughing when Lady Bird is picked up by the popular girl in her class, or when the skins-esque ‘Kyle’, sitting alone at the party tells Lady Bird that he smokes rollies instead of straights in a protest against capitalism. At fifteen, I longed for what Effy and Freddie had; in awe of Effy’s cigarette smoking and smudged dark eyes, enchanted by the fact she ‘hated the people she should love, and the people she hates…’

What is so beautiful about this film is that it is Lady Bird’s mother, in a familiar fusion of furiousness and unconditional love, who swerves the car around in the hope of saying a final goodbye to her daughter at the airport. It is Lady Bird’s best friend who she returns to on prom night, to eat cheese and crackers and giggle hysterically.

The friendship a girl forms with her best friend at sixteen is exhilarating. Its a time of shared rebellion: joint-smoking in stuffy garages, straight vodka from water bottles, fake IDs, Nirvanna and Lucy and the Sky with Diamonds. But whilst it is exciting, it is also a time of shared self-discovery: of identity questioning, sexual confession, emotional support. You learn intimacy through your female friends before a sexual partner: from sheepish enquiry to graphic detail, it is through our best friends that we discovery our own bodies.

Lady Bird teaches us that we are allowed to get swept off our feet by the the mysterious, floppy-haired rock star. But our female friendships offer something that no sexual partner ever can.

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