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All the while during watching Lady Bird, I was drawing parallels to “Boyhood”, this masterful and calm analysis of how life takes no prisoners when you are part of a family. These are perfect companion pieces for those wondering what it’s like to be a parent. While Boyhood took a larger perspective, Lady Bird is more narrowly focused in time and personnel, looking in particular at the relationship between the self-named high school teenager Lady Bird and her mother. But maybe that only is the natural result of the family father drowning deeper and deeper in apathy and depression after the loss of his career. Both films are frank, in good times and in bad times.

It cuts deep, I have to say. Fortunately, my guess is that only those who actually do have children will really appreciate how deep, what pain there is involved to have those cute little toddlers take over our lives and run away with it (as Boyhood said so brilliantly), or even turn it against us (as it looks in Lady Bird sometimes). Maybe it’s like the pain of childbirth: you start forgetting how much it hurt very quickly, as a protection mechanism of nature, or no one would ever be foolish enough to have another baby. The pain of having to deal with a teenager defining her own life can be no less. If people could anticipate what it means to live through the various stages of a parent-child relationship, how many would decide to start a family in the first place?

Lady Bird and her mother both do not shy away from a fight, about the respect for the family or the proximity to the parents in choice of college. Both accuse each other of passive aggressiveness, and they are sometimes unable to change their communication pattern, because they’ve been there too often and are exhausted. You can feel that the sometimes harsh reaction of the mother is the result of years of combat, her moderation and mediation fuel is in the red, she says things we never want to say to our children but are worried that at some point we will (“do you know how much it cost us to get you through your life?”). Boyhood had those moments of conflict, and they were brilliantly managed by cutting away to the next time slot and showing that the smoke from all those battlegrounds had dispersed into nothingness, other matters have come about and everybody just moved on. Lady Bird, being dedicated to a much shorter period of time this family passes through, is less gracious, stays on one of these conflicts for longer and shows how the family members struggle with somehow finding a resolution for these existential threats to the family bonds. It will be allright in the end, but damn is there a lot of not-allright to overcome until then.

There is often talk about the loss of childhood, about the slow process of losing the lightness of childhood, of realising one day that you have not been out “to play” in years, wondering why not and somehow succumbing to the fact. There is, we see here, also the loss of parenthood. At some point, the world has moved on and you are sitting on your kitchen table (Boyhood) or in your car (Lady Bird) facing the reality of the empty nest, another pointer that your life has completed its maybe most important stage and has left you on the wrong side of whatever. Lady Bird’s mother tries to fight this realisation to the very last moment, and she has to face that new reality while feeling she has been betrayed, which makes it almost impossible for her to get through it with her head up. In both films, those final scenes are heart wrenchingly cruel. What is a consolation is that if we cut a year into the future, we can assume that everybody has learned to deal with the new stage in life (Lady Bird off to college), that everybody is better able to merge love and anger into a new glue for that family. After all, even in her most glum moments, Lady Bird defends her mother’s actions by appreciating that she is acting out of great love for her daughter.

Lady Bird was much praised as an important contribution of a female perspective by a female film maker. Seen in the context of the current debate about harassment and objectification, that may be a valid point. I did not read this film as having a particularly female perspective, though. It is just very competent film making, on the example of a family where the women play the more active role, take on the fights where necessary, and the men / boys frequently just hop on the back seat and hope that the ladies won’t crash the whole thing in the ground. That is not a female perspective, but maybe a true reflection on many families’ reality.

It is hard to differentiate “Lady Bird” as a cinematic achievement from its achievement in showcasing some profound examples for what it means to be a family. As a movie, despite the brilliance of all the actors and the competence in style, it may not even be spectacular. As an analysis, it is.

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