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Why teenagers need to watch "Lady Bird"

Jan. 31, 2018
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Living in a suburban community is shit. Living in a suburban community surrounded by rich people who know exactly how much money your parents make is even worse. That’s why, when I saw the movie Lady Bird, I left the theater as a new person. 

Going into the movie, I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t read any reviews or even watched the trailer. It was a Friday night in the small town of Buford, Georgia (40 minutes outside of Atlanta), and I had nothing to do. The only activity to do within a 12-mile radius was head to the mall. I have lived in Buford my entire life, but since all my friends live in Atlanta, my Friday nights have always been spent in the back row of a movie theater, watching whatever I could get my hands on, hoping I would leave the theater with newfound inspiration for my next film. More often than not, the only feeling I got while leaving the theater was pure regret that I’d spent my paycheck on a $15 ticket for a movie that was either boring, cliché, or cheap in its usage of sex as a way to entice viewers. Lady Bird was the first movie I saw that had a character to which I could genuinely relate.

Although everyone who saw this movie had a different take on the overarching message, I struggled to find just one. The plot didn’t linger on just one central message; instead, this movie explored the various struggles of growing up as a teenager: high school relationships, popularity, money, college—and how location plays into all of it. 

The main character of the story, Lady Bird, lives in a tight-knit community where everyone knows everything. It’s difficult for a person to live in that town and hide information—especially one’s financial status. Lady Bird attends a Catholic school that is split down the middle: half of the students are extremely rich, and the other half is extremely poor. One of the very first scenes that establishes this notion of Lady Bird being on the “wrong side of the railroad tracks” is when she and her best friend take the long way home from school, walking through a rich neighborhood with houses that you’d see in Vogue. Then, Lady Bird makes a turn into her neighborhood, which is crowded with tiny, older houses. 

The portrayal of Lady Bird’s struggle with wanting a different and more pristine life really struck home. When I first started going down to Atlanta to work for a film production company, I was exposed to a faster-paced life with beautiful people who drove expensive cars and lived in million-dollar penthouses. Yet here I was, a stalky, awkward teenager who lived in the middle of nowhere. Being surrounded by teenagers who were born into multi-million dollar households was intimidating, especially because it always seemed to be the topic of conversation. It was embarrassing to tell them that my dad was a car salesman and my mom sold insurance. I’m so thankful that they have jobs in the first place, but it’s embarrassing to be in that situation when teenagers around you have parents who are so financially well-off that they retired at 45. 

After a certain point, I found myself starting to kiss up to those who lived in beautiful, big homes. Befriending people who had a better lifestyle than I did made me feel like I was a part of this more elite, fast-paced group of individuals. I would spend all day lounging on couches that cost more than my house, eating out at restaurants that had valet parking, and then I’d have to come back home to a tiny bedroom that could pass as a closet. I began telling those who asked that I lived in Lenox, a super rich section of town that would cost you $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. I was living the life I had wanted for myself but was never able to have. Lady Bird does the same, lying to a friend about the house she lives in until she’s caught in a lie. 

With a family who is scraping to get by, Lady Bird’s mom constantly stresses the importance of her going to the local college instead of attending her dream school in New York. Lady Bird’s suffering GPA does not give her the luxury of a scholarship, and it seems like the only place she’ll be able to attend is a college just 20 minutes from her house. This is an issue that many teenagers face. When a person lives in a low-income household, they often don’t have the luxury of even dreaming about attending an out-of-state school. From the day I was born, I was raised to be realistic. Out-of-state schools are for rich kids with amazing grades, and even if I worked hard, the chances of my family being able to pay tuition for a school like Harvard or UCLA would be nearly impossible. My parents were constantly supportive of whatever my sister and I wanted to do for a career, but they expressed that moving out of state would not be doable. This is why you have small-town people with big aspirations who attend mediocre colleges and get useless degrees. These kids, who want more for themselves and can’t openly reach that goal, end up working 9-to-5 jobs at grocery stores, much like Lady Bird’s brother. Growing up, it seemed like achievable dreams were only for wealthy people or those who were extremely smart.

Another important aspect of the movie is how accurately Lady Bird’s love interests were portrayed in the movie. It might have just been me, but I feel like anyone who has ever had a boyfriend in high school will see one of them in the two male love interests. The first boyfriend Lady Bird has is the leading character in her school’s musical. He’s blissfully unaware of anything outside of his three-story house; at one point in the movie, he makes a pass at the house Lady Bird lives in by telling her parents that he “didn’t realize Lady Bird wasn't joking” when she said that she lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Though he is sweet, he and Lady Bird come from two different worlds. He is your stereotypical high school "actor" who is happy-go-lucky and confident, but still trying to find himself. 

After Lady Bird breaks up with him, she finds herself falling head over heels in love with a member of the local teenage garage band. He’s tall and has black, shaggy hair. Sitting in the theater, I couldn’t help but stalk the actor’s Instagram. Lady Bird has little to no conversation with him, but when she does, he always plays it like he’s too cool. He’s the guy you meet thinking he’s different and wise beyond his years (despite the fact that he’s only 17), but after you step away from that situation, you realize he was full of it. He claims to be "woke" but doesn’t know what the hell he’s saying half the time. Oh, and he lies to you. I instantly correlated both of Lady Bird’s boyfriends to my previous relationships, my first boyfriend being the kind of guy I’d want my parents to meet, and the other being someone I’d sneak out of my bedroom window late at night to see. It was refreshing to see how accurately these two relationships were portrayed from a teenage girl's perspective.

Lady Bird is the coming-of-age movie I needed to see as a person entering adulthood. This year determines a lot for me—this summer, I’ll be touring local colleges and logistically planning the next stage of my life away from home. As I returned home from the theater, I constantly replayed the movie in my mind. I remembered Lady Bird’s mom, who felt like she had let her daughter down because she couldn’t afford to support her daughter’s aspirations. I think of my mom, who wakes up at 4 in the morning from a restless sleep just so she can drive me an hour away to my school and then head to her 7-to-5 job. I think of my father, who left his family in Rhode Island to move to Georgia for a job opportunity that led to nothing after 9/11 happened. I think of the fights and tears I shared with my mom over the past year about how my GPA was too low to go to my dream film school. I think about how the minute I told my mom that I wanted to be a writer, she stayed up all night, browsing the internet to look for journalism internships for which I could apply. I was not raised rich, but sometimes there are lessons in life that can’t be taught when you’re surrounded by money. Sometimes, you have to have almost nothing so that when you’re finally given something, you appreciate it more. The selflessness my parents gave me in a town that took so much away from me is something I will never stop cherishing. I have Lady Bird to thank for making me realize how fortunate I am to have that in my life.