100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 120 BPM: “Ladybird” Gave Me Anxiety
It was early October, Columbus day to be exact, and as I rushed to the train at 8:30pm the sun had just recently set and the air had notes of a season’s close. It may have actually been the last warm day.
I ran down Eastern Parkway shedding layers as I went, I was wrong in thinking I would need a jacket. Sweat ran down my back, collected in divots and folds, completely soaking through parts of my cotton shirt. As I waited on the platform for the next train, I resented myself. I had purchased these tickets months in advance, there was really no excuse for my lateness and my partner, always on time, was waiting for me at the theater.
I was on my way to the premiere of “Ladybird” as a part of the New York Film Festival. Considering this was the first large-scale screening of the film, I hadn’t read a review, or even seen a trailer, so I had really no expectations for the film, aside from what I knew about the work of Greta Gerwig through her performances in the films of Joe Swanberg, Tod Solands and Noah Baumbach.
I arrived with a minute to spare before the house lights dimmed and the curator presented the film. The Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Lincoln Center seats approximately 300 people, with tall balconies that hang over the ground-level seating. The orchestra seating is made of long rows that span the width of the theater. Our seats were positioned in the middle of a row, in the dead-center of the theater. The screening was sold out and the energy was high with anticipation.
I sighed with relief as the title sequence began.
The theater fell silent. With only small movements and faint whispers occasionally breaking the stillness. A room like this is brimming with potential. Silence, when packed-full of 300 warm bodies, can suddenly become deafening in a different way.
Once it arrives, a feeling so singular and immediate, there is really no talking yourself down, or breathing it away. It often begins with a hyper-attunement to your own body, its heightened rhythm and dislocate pace. You then draw your attention to the room. And this room, with its silence and its 300 spectators, was not fit to house a feeling this large.
Although taken-back by the movie’s impeccable sense of pacing and pointed humor, partway through the narrative I was suddenly struck by, what felt like at the time, an unexpected panic attack. As I placed my partners hand on my heart, he looked at me with concerning eyes and whispered “do we need to take you somewhere?” Himself unfamiliar with panic, and I, all too familiar, closed my eyes, took off my glasses and tried to calm myself down.
Ladybird was marketed to me as a coming-of-age story of a teenage girl who lives in Sacramento, California in the early 2000’s. I never considered the possibility of the narrative aligning so completely to my own experience, especially in its honest depiction of the often fraught mother-daughter relationship, played out between Christine “Ladybird” McPherson (Saorise Ronan) and her resolute mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Ladybird captured, so masterfully, the feeling of being late-teen and chalk-full of contradiction. She is at once self-involved and compassionate; headstrong and insecure; rebellious and a conformist. Suspended within a feeling of unknowing, Ladybird awkwardly attempts the endless process of self-discovery and self-creation, imparting an emotion so distinct to that phase of life you can’t help but feel nostalgic.
I personally was not prepared for Gerwig’s precision and the execution of her writing, which left me wondering at times if certain senes were stolen directly from my life. I feel somehow my response (although atypical) shows the movie really did what it intended to: it hit a super soft, unprotect spot. A spot full of still-fresh wounds and relationships still in-need of mending. It pushed me to immediately pick up the phone and call my mother.
Here’s a scene that really did it for me:
Lady bird and her mother are shopping for her prom dress at a thrift shop. Lady Bird comes out in dress, it’s too tight:
I’m probably no good at acting. (looking at herself)
Why don’t I look like the girls in the magazines?
It’s too bad I can’t meet this Kyle before prom.
He’s not my boyfriend anymore. I mean, maybe he never even was.
I’d still like to meet him.
LADY BIRD (O.S.) (re: the dress)
IT’S TOO TIGHT! FUCK.
Lady Bird goes back into the dressing room.
I suggested you not take that second helping of pasta…
Honey, you seem upset about it, I’m trying to help you.
Mom! You’re giving me an eating disorder!
LADY BIRD (CONT’D) (to herself)
I wish I could get an eating disorder.
Lady Bird comes out again. The dress kind of fits her. It’s bright pink and frilly. She looks happy.
LADY BIRD (CONT’D)
I love it.
Smiles up at her Mom, looking for approval:
Is it too pink?
Lady Bird silently goes back into the dressing room. Her Mom just crushed something that she liked and was very “her.” Marion picks up that she’s upset:
Why can’t you say I look nice?
I thought you didn’t even care what I think.
LADY BIRD (O.S.)
I still want you to think I look good.
I’m sorry, I was telling you the truth. Do you want me to lie?
LADY BIRD (O.S.)
No, I just wish… I wish that you liked me.
Of course I love you.
Lady Bird comes out. Looks at Marion with the pure question:
But do you like me?
…I want you to be the very best version of yourself you can be.
What if this is the best version?