A genuinely good film does more than simply entertain or inform — it has the power to heal. When a film’s story engages my story, there is potential in that encounter for life-changing, liberating personal transformation. Some films heal not only the viewer, but also an entire community or even a generation. The TV series The Wonder Years helped Builders and Boomers heal as week by week it processed growing up and living in tumultuous period in American history. About Schmidt helped aging Boomers seeking meaning, purpose and direction as they approached retirement. The power of Zach Braff’s Garden State lay in its ability to speak to Gen Xers wrestling with their place in the world during their early to mid 30s. Lady Bird may be the first “healing” film that works through the early 2000s when Millennials, who are now embarking on their 30s, were coming of age.
Lady Bird is set in Sacramento, California, about three years after the Columbine shootings and a year after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — two tragedies that rocked American culture and shaped the context in which Millennials’ developed. The film follows the McPhersons, an average middle-class family working hard to maintain and hopefully better their social and cultural standing in a changing economic climate. In the opening scene, 17-year-old Christine (Saoirse Ronan) is on a college visit road trip with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). This initial interaction sets the stage for how this mother-daughter relationship impacts Christine’s development in the course of the film. The film’s title comes from the name that Christine “gives to herself,” a symbol of her teenage rebellion and attempt to distinguish herself from her family. Lady Bird is a unique character who lights up the screen as she works through the stages of growth that characterizes the traditional coming of age shift from high school to college.
What makes Lady Bird a gripping and fascinating film is walking with Lady Bird as she tries to discern her way through the obstacles she faces. For Millennials who relate to Lady Bird and her family the film becomes a lens through which to process their own experiences. As the audience laughs, rejoices, cries and suffers along the journey of Lady Bird’s experiences, there are many possibilities for mutual self-understanding between film and viewer that have the potential to bring about healing.
Actress, producer, director and now Golden Globe nominated writer, Greta Gerwig, is able to tell such a maturely developed story about Lady Bird because the film parallels her own experience. At 34 and hailing from Sacramento, Gerwig’s parents essentially mirror Lady Bird’s parents in the film. The cathartic nature of the film comes from the fact that the writer and director is putting on screen a version of her own life.
Lady Bird — both the character and the film — comes full circle in a key moment for anyone moving toward maturity: thankfulness. While this resolution helps Lady Bird move forward and may, upon reflection, help move Millennials forward, it may also be healing for many who find themselves frustrated with where they are on life’s journey.