If you put together all the reels of film devoted to telling stories about men's relationships with their fathers, I suspect you'd have enough to circle the planet.
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig's masterful directorial debut, proves that it's time to turn the lens on the mother-daughter relationship. Originally titled Mothers and Daughters, the film follows 17-year-old Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson as she tries to navigate the perilous waters of teenage self-discovery. A lot of that involves clashes with her mother, Marion, who, when she isn't worrying about making ends meet, is fretting about Lady Bird: her past, her present, and definitely her future.
Things come to a head when it comes out that Lady Bird has secretly applied, and been accepted, to NYU, in direct contradiction to Marion's wishes. The two have a huge fight, and Lady Bird leaves for college with Marion still giving her the silent treatment, never knowing that she actually rushes back to the airport to try to mend fences, only to find that her daughter's plane has already left. Likewise, Lady Bird's final phone call to Marion is the act of love that caps the film. After a night of freshman drinking lands her in the hospital, she ends up in front of a Church, placing a call to Sacramento on her emergency phone. Not finding her mother at home, she leaves an emotional message, and we know that all will be right.
Refinery29 spoke to Ronan over the phone about what she thinks happens after that last scene in the film, why this film has resonated with so many viewers, and what she said to her own mother.
Refinery29: I want to start with the ending — where do you think Lady Bird goes after that exhale?
Saoirse Ronan: “Oh, gosh. She probably goes to take a shower, because she’s a mess. I would say, she gets right back into the old New York groove. She’s about to start college, and she just needed to make that phone call in order for her to get on with this new life. And I think she’s a very open person, so I don’t see her having any trouble making friends."
There are so many male coming-of-age movies. Why do you think it’s taken so long for women to penetrate the genre?
"Because they weren’t really given the support to do it. They weren’t necessarily given the resources. I do feel like it actually started over in TV, and it’s made it over to film — women like Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner and Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler have helped each other and supported each other. Because if they weren’t going to write sketches or TV shows for themselves, then nobody else was going to, and they’re really good at it. That’s been so successful — what it comes down to unfortunately for so many people is ‘Is it commercial or not? Will it make us money or not?’ And people are started to see that films can be made with women. I mean, even Bridesmaids — it doesn’t necessarily have to be about the romance, it doesn’t have to be about the girl finding the guy in order for it to be an entertaining film. Likewise, even if a young guy and a girl were the leads in the film, it would be really interesting to not have it be sexual or romantic, and to show the other facets of a relationship. There’s a light that’s been shone on the fascinating life of a woman now, and you can’t really turn away."
I was just talking to Beanie Feldstein, and your friendship with Julie could be its own movie.
“Absolutely! Maybe we’ll do a sequel.”
What was it like working with Laurie Metcalfe — how did you two develop that mother/daughter dynamic?
"We didn’t have that many rehearsals together, I think we had four or five hours of table read in a day, and we sort of mapped out all the trigger points in each argument scene between the two of them, and made sure that they each had a different flavour. And then we just got in there and did it. It was great that so many of our scenes are in the family home, so that kind of gives you a chance to settle in and inhabit that place a little bit together.”
I’ve been reading so many reactions online from mothers and daughters who really relate to this movie. What makes this mother-daughter relationship so universal?
“I think it shows the complexity of the relationship and how you can have a relationship with your mother or with your child that’s fuelled by love but it gets a little murky sometimes, and complicated, especially as the kid starts to get older and wants that independence. It was a very honest telling of what it’s like for a parent and a kid around this really difficult time in both their lives. It’s a very changeable time. A teenager one day is going to be one thing, and is going to dress a certain way, and do something different the next day because they’re finding themselves, and I think that’s tricky for a parent to get used to.”
Did you talk about the film with your own mother?
"Yes! I was talking to her every day. I don’t know where I’d be without my mom, she’s the one who gives me the confidence to keep going. She actually came out while I was filming, because I had just come off a pretty intense play and done all the press for Brooklyn before that, and it had been a bit relentless for about six months. I really wanted to do the best job for Greta, and knew that the only way to be in the right place to do that would be if my mom was there.”
A lot of the conversations around the film have been about Lady Bird as personal to Greta. How did you make the character your own? Did you add any experiences from your own life?
“I think you just naturally do when you’re acting in a scene. That was actually an adjustment for me over the last few years because I started when I was young, and didn’t have any life experience at all. And now, I’m 23, I was 22 at the time when I made Lady Bird, and I’ve had my own experiences separate from work. So they just start to naturally just play a part in how you bring a role to life, or how you can be true emotionally. It was definitely a collaboration between Greta and I. From day to day we found it, and we found what we needed for each moment.”
How did working with a female director affect your experience as an actress?
"In a way I don’t think of Greta as being a female director, I just think of her as being a great director. She’s just a fantastic storyteller, and I think even with this movie — there’s a female at the forefront of it, and it really does celebrate and honour female relationships, but she also pays as much attention to Lady Bird’s father, and brother, and boyfriends. She’s very clever and sensitive to everyone in her film. And any woman I’ve worked with, I’ve never specifically thought of them as being a female director. They are the boss, they are the ones who are leading the way, in the same way that it would be if it was a man."
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