“Saint” Lady Bird of Sacramento

by Patrick Stallwood

 

Lady Bird, written and directed by Gretta Gerwig, is a hopeful, character driven, coming of age dramedy set in Sacramento, California during the early 2000’s. The film portrays the complicated relationship between Christine (AKA Lady Bird) and her overbearing and overly critical mother. It also involves subplots about her relationships during senior year and her attempts to go to a college away from her boring hometown. Don’t worry, this piece is spoiler-free!

When viewing the trailer, one can’t help but notice Lady Bird goes to a Catholic school. In much of mainstream media, Catholic schools are portrayed as a creativity stifling, Christian propaganda facility, run by mean priests and nuns who hit students’ knuckles with rulers. Thankfully, Gerwig actually went to a Catholic school and doesn’t rely on toxic archetypes. Instead, the nuns and priest are memorable, surprisingly deep characters who serve to help Lady Bird through a tumultuous time. In fact, all of the characters in the film are going through their own journey, as the classic stereotypes of high school are ditched for ones genuinely relatable and likable. The story feels authentic and fosters emotional investment, as Gerwig depicts a narrative so intimately you know she lived through it. While the film takes time to flesh out side characters through subtle dialogue, Lady Bird is the center of our attention. Her character development makes this movie intriguing for Catholics. In an interview with America Magazine, Gerwig notes that while writing Lady Bird, she was pondering over the lives of the saints as teenagers.

 

You don’t have to look far to find out that some saints were relatable and even mischievous teenagers. The prime example is St. Augustine, who he stole pears with some friends, lusted over women, and even fathered a child out of wedlock. While Lady Bird refrains from stealing produce, she finds that she will do malicious things due to the influence of her peers. Her obsession to make her mark on the school and move to New York causes her to seek shallow, popular people, rather than stay with a truly beneficial friendship. It’s not that she’s a bad person, but she finds that some people can bring out the worst parts in her. Augustine comes to the same conclusion, as he realizes he never wanted the pears he stole; he was just engaged in the shared evils of a bad friend group.

 

Lady Bird also finds herself in new romantic relationships as she explores what it means to be in a relationship and be sexually intimate. Lady Bird isn’t Catholic, but she still views sex as a precious act that she should share with the right person. In her view though, this person doesn’t have to be your spouse. While the film posits that sexual encounters may just be a part of growing up, it takes time to depict the consequences of harmful relationships that use sex as a tool for pleasure with one partner being reduced to an object.

 

Lady Bird experiences an obsession with carnal pleasures like Augustine, but she also identifies how destructive these pleasures can be in her life. As she goes through her senior year of high school, she becomes aware of how her ideas on relationships need to evolve. That’s where this film really stands out: it shows careless actions as having real consequences that the characters have to face. In its portrayal of this reality, Lady Bird could be a story of sainthood. Identifying sins in ourselves comes by the grace of God, and God’s grace works with what we have. Throughout the film, we can see grace working in Lady Bird as she faces her mistakes, her mother, and her relationships. Whether she accepts this grace in her adult life, and becomes Saint Lady Bird of Sacramento, is up to you. 


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