It covers the ground many trans women can't talk about, myself included, and I was reluctant to watch this film, and confront a past narrative that I'll sadly never share. Lady Bird is a coming-of-age movie in which Saoirse Ronan's Christine – aka self-styled Lady Bird – experiences the travails of her senior high school year, with boys and best friends, and most of all her parents. Her gentle father is unemployed and sinking into depression; her mother is highly strung and hyper critical, and unable to cut her slack. The real tragedy, in fact, is the mother's. By the end, it's clear it's the mother who suffers from her own damaging inability to accept her daughter's character, while Christine herself is going to be okay. It's Christine who's strong, has initiative, and of course it will help that she's played as a good-looking, charismatic figure. While we're shown repeatedly that Christine struggles academically, her savvy intelligence is never in question. Is this even a flaw of the film? Are high school students this emotionally strong and consistent, and mothers in contrast so fragile? In this story it's the daughter who ultimately has the emotional maturity to mend relationships, including the one with her uptight mother.
Like Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri, this movie directed by Greta Gerwig is difficult to critique without giving much away, and also because there's little to critique - beyond the dismayingly uneven qualities assigned between daughter and mother. Well-crafted and nicely paced, for example, moments of gentle comedy punctuate the film throughout, not least between the teachers at the Catholic school where Christine studies. One particular scene involving a guest speaker warning against the evils of abortion produces arguably the biggest, shocking laugh. It's an indication of how Gerwig has successfully melded complex themes of sex and identity into this tricky backdrop of adolescence.
But given that all the critics are praising this film anyway, what of my trans-female reaction?It's true that the dynamics of mother-daughter are under the spotlight, and the cis-gendered female friend I watched this film with told me that much of this film resonates for her. As an adolescent boy – in the closet about being trans – my own dynamics with my mother were different and continue to be now; the competitiveness and pessimism of the mother for her daughter in Lady Bird isn't something I'm familiar with. My relationship with my father, now more than ever, is more complex in the expectations involved, and as for my siblings . . . but let's not go there. Regardless, the past is the past, and adolescence is no golden age to pine for unless your adult life is so seriously shit. What Lady Bird reminds me is how adolescence is about survival and the obsessive illusion of sex-as-Holy-Grail, but unlike my friend, my heart went out to the tortured mother played by Laurie Metcalf. As wrong as some of her reactions are, the tenderness of her vulnerability is what stayed with me long after the film had finished, and it's for that reason – the complex, intense, sometimes lonely fucked-upness of being a mother - that you'll connect with this film and empathize with it, regardless of whether you're cis-gendered or trans.