Reel Dad: Lady Bird spotlights mothers and daughters

She tends to her laundry with precision and care, never doubting her mission, never questioning her ability. This is her space. She owns this room. And if anyone dares to question her authority, the conversation will be brief.

For people who remember Laurie Metcalf as Roseanne’s sister on television, her work as an overbearing mother with a heart in the film Lady Bird may be a revelation. Metcalf becomes the mother trapped by love she feels but cannot express, the fear she hides but will not confront. This lady knows her daughter, a wandering high school senior, needs a mother’s guidance. But life has been on tough “on the wrong side of the tracks” in Sacramento. And some days all she can manage is the laundry. Because that’s something mother can control.

Greta Gerwig’s breathtaking comedy paints the most detailed picture of mother-daughter dynamics since Shirley MacLaine sparred with Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment some 34 years ago. Like that earlier film, this odyssey ventures into emotional land mines filled with anger and denial yet graced by love and kindness. Gerwig refuses to simplify the complexities between parents and children. And she never takes sides. Her film simply expresses the hope that, ultimately, people who love each other will look beyond what drives them crazy.

The narrative is simple. The wondrous Saoirse Ronan, an Oscar nominee for the film Brooklyn, plays a 17-year-old feeling trapped by the confines of her immediate world of Sacramento and her immediate family with a father out of work, a brother out of time and a mother out of control. They can go at it in that way only families communicate. Mother and daughter spar over clothing. Disagree over relationships. Argue over dreams. Yet they rarely doubt how much they love. They just can’t always find the words.

Lady Bird — as the daughter names herself — wanders through her final year at a Catholic high school, worrying about the future, playing tricks on teachers and administrators, talking with her best friend, pursuing relationships with boys. But plot doesn’t matter. This isn’t a film about events. It’s a movie about day-to-day feelings that fill ordinary moments. What makes the film so extraordinary is how it finds a pace and rhythm and voice to articulate truth. Ninety minutes after the movie begins we feel we have shared a year in high school. And we want to re-live it again.

For Ronan, Lady Bird is a triumph of spontaneity and presence. The actress illuminates the screen with her heartfelt look at a girl who knows there is more to experience but who is too grounded to expect what she hopes. Ronan perfectly captures the character’s slight cynicism and skeptical wonder. And she makes us believe in the heart of a girl who wants to be so much yet has little idea of how much she already is.

As well, for Gerwig, the co-writer, co-director and co-star of Frances Ha, Lady Bird offers the chance to shine on her own. Like that mother she creates, the one who washes the clothes, Gerwig knows what’s involved in a day’s work. And how to make any day’s work unforgettable.

Film Nutritional Value: Lady Bird

  • Content: High. How a mother and daughter search for truth in their relationship becomes a meaningful journey for anyone looking for a sense of belonging.
  • Entertainment: High. While the story may sound serious, this is a comedy filled with humanity and humor as writer/director Greta Gerwig brings the characters to life.
  • Message: High. No matter where home may be, and what relationships we may savor, the film reminds us that we have opportunities every day to connect with people who matter.
  • Relevance: High. Any time our children can see how others may struggle with issues they face can prompt meaningful conversation.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. Share this film with your children as an opportunity to discuss how, each day, we can find small moments to connect.


Lady Bird is rated R for “language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.” The film runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. 5 Popcorn buckets. 

Terms of Endearment shares Lady Bird’s sensibility

By Mark Schumann

The Reel Dad

Any parent intends to be a positive influence on a child. But some parents, for no fault of their own, may not have what it takes to create a healthy environment for a child. Some may take years to figure out what this parenting thing is all about. And some may be too childlike in their own lives to provide what a son or daughter actually need.

As Greta Gerwig so beautifully explores in Lady Bird, parents and children often let the intensity of their feelings get in the way of understanding. The film reminds us how, some 34 years ago, writer/director James L. Brooks offered his interpretation of mothers and daughters in Terms of Endearment.

This Oscar winner takes us through 30 years of a turbulent relationship between a mother and a daughter. At times they clearly love each other; at others they simply can’t tolerate each other; throughout, they understand each other better than anyone else in their lives. The bonds they share withstand almost any challenge or distance; they are, simply, soul mates that make a lifetime rich. And they remind us that If fathers and sons require experiences to connect, mothers and daughters may require patience. That’s what we learn from this visit with a most domineering, yet loving mother who wants nothing more than for her daughter to live a happy life. She just doesn’t know when to stop pushing.

These are not perfect women. The mother, Aurora, is self-centered, self-indulgent and self-absorbed. She expects more than what may be appropriate from her daughter yet she believes in this woman at the same time. She may comment but dare anyone else to criticize her daughter in her presence. And she can see ahead of her daughter’s life in a way that makes her a cautious guide as well as essential support. The daughter, Emma, brings a mature command to her relationship with her mother that she cannot bring to her husband or sons. She becomes, for them, as incapable as her own mother was with her. The gifts from parents keep on giving.

Terms of Endearment captures the ups and downs of any relationship without trying to comment on every discussion. The film never takes a side as to what someone should say or do. Writer and director James L. Brooks takes us inside how these women, so strong in their ways, become less functional with others than they know how to be with each other. This ultimate love story about how the bonds that parents and children share can get in the way of how bond with other people.

Parents are curious animals. On one hand, we want our children to live their own lives while, on the other, we want them to always need us as when they were children. Terms of Endearment dares to examine how the dynamics between generations must always be ready to change. The film bounces from very funny to very sad, as it carefully reflects the real rollercoaster that loving someone can mean. Just because we love someone doesn’t mean they are perfect. Terms of Endearment helps us appreciate how important it is to understand the imperfections we each possess. It inspires us to celebrate humanity. And it reminds us — just as in Lady Bird — that, now and then, parents must be evaluated for what we try to be and not what we accomplish.