As a woman who attended Catholic school for 16 years of her life, Lady Bird is possibly the most relatable movie of the year. Lady Bird could have added the subtitle “inspired by true events” and I would have asked myself which person from my hometown sold the rights to their life story to Greta Gerwig.
From praying before going onstage to perform in the school musical, to being told to “leave six inches for the Holy Spirit,” many of these scenes seem to be taken directly from my personal experience. (I too, rolled my skirts just a little too short as my personal form of rebellion. I, too, have eaten communion wafers in the sacristy because “they’re not consecrated yet.”)
The relationship between Lady Bird and her mom is tumultuous. They yell and fight and rarely seem to be on the same page, except in the one moment when they find the perfect dress for Lady Bird to wear to Thanksgiving dinner and they turn from fighting to fawning in seconds. The film does not split hairs when it comes to portraying this mom-daughter relationship: Lady Bird literally throwing herself out of a moving car to avoid a lecture from her mother about her future is something that even I have fantasized about doing during particularly invasive familial conversations.
Yet, forgiveness is everywhere throughout the film — Lady Bird forgives her first boyfriend for faking their relationship, Lady Bird’s best friend Julie forgives Lady Bird for abandoning her for a boy, Lady Bird forgives her mother for being incredibly tough on her, and her mom forgives Lady Bird for not being more than she is.
The most poignant moment in the movie comes when Lady Bird and her mom are, once again, shopping for a dress. Lady Bird states that sometimes it seems like her mom doesn’t like her, to which her mom quickly replies, “Of course I love you.” But that’s not what Lady Bird asked. Her mom explains that she just wants Lady Bird to be the very best version of herself that she can be. “What if this is the best version?” is the reply.
We all know that we are called to love one another. What Lady Bird suggests is that we’re called to do more than just love one another — we’re called to like one another.
The counter-cultural truth that Lady Bird portrays is that there is no “perfect.” There is only “best.” The best version of ourselves includes flaws. Even at our best, we will disappoint, let down, and fall short. At our best we will still struggle with mental illness, or be a little selfish, or not go to church often enough. But we don’t love someone for who they will become; we love them for who they are. We love them for the version that they are right now, without expectation of an eventual “best version.”
In a world where we are always called to be better, do more, and live up to our potential, what we are truly yearning for is permission to be ourselves, the version that we are now. Instead of wasting our time trying to become a perfect version that does not exist, we can recognize that we are flawed beings, in a flawed world. We can extend ourselves and others true forgiveness for not reaching the impossible standard of “perfect,” and get on with the work of loving, and liking, our neighbors.