Screenplay by: Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird captures the quarrelsome, I-can’t-stand-you-but-I-love-
ESTABLISHING TONE AND/OR GENRE
Page one finds Lady Bird and her mother, Marion, waking up in a motel room together, sharing the same bed. The first image of the two is probably the most peaceful we will ever see them when they’re in the same room. The tone here is quiet and funny in a real way — like Lady Bird nitpicking at her mother making the bed, and mom giving her a very “mom” type of retort.
In the next scene, the tone opens up a bit, and we begin to see just what type of movie this is supposed to be.
Marion and Lady Bird begin to do what they’re best at — and what they’ll be doing for much of the movie: bickering. Their rapid back and forth is honest but funny and it’s clear we’re supposed to be enjoying this, finding the humor in it. Their arguing continues for another two pages until, on page 4, Lady Bird does this:
The moment is borderline slapstick and probably one of the only “big” comedic moments in the script, as the rest of the humor is more grounded in tone. Though, the immediate next scene opens with what turns out to be the punchline of the previous scene:
From this we also gather that the tone won’t be a tame coming-of-age movie, so to speak.
INTRODUCING THE MAIN CHARACTERS
From the above pages, we see that we are introduced to Lady Bird and her mother right away. Their dynamic is fiery, antagonistic, and humorous. It’s also raw and realistic, which turns out to be one of Lady Bird’s defining strengths. Through their back-and-forth dynamic, Gerwig wastes no time in letting us know the type of women Lady Bird and Marion are. We learn how Lady Bird feels about her hometown Sacramento and her desire to leave. Marion almost plays the “straight man” to Lady Bird, constantly providing the reality check that brings her daughter’s spirits down.
In the pages that follow, we meet her best friend JULIE, who also goes to Catholic school with Lady Bird.
Right after meeting Julie — and how she and Lady Bird both bond over their shared dreams about living in the “nice” part of Sacramento — we meet Lady Bird’s adopted brother. Despite the slice-of-life feel of the script, it’s incredibly efficient writing. Scenes are succinct, clearly — we’ve already met all of our main characters by page 9. (The only one missing, Larry, Lady Bird’s DAD, is introduced on page 11.)
THE WORLD OF THE STORY
These opening pages showcase our characters in what will become the story’s world: Immaculate Heart of Mary, streets of Sacramento, etc. Page 6 sets up in further detail what will become part of the story’s world: theatre.
We, and Lady Bird, learn that the school has a theatre arts program inside of SISTER SARAH-JOAN’s office (which will also become part of the story’s world, as we’ll return to it later on — Sister Sarah-Joan’s conversations with Lady Bird are some of the funniest of the movie).
The first ten pages efficiently do what they’re supposed to do: they reveal that Lady Bird’s story will take place within the confines of Catholic school/high school and suburbia. The stage has been set for a coming of age story.
Coming of age. Growing up. Those are the fairly obvious themes. But these first ten pages also establish themes of longing (Lady Bird’s longing to move away from Sacramento, her longing of what she sees as a better life when she looks at the fancier houses), individuality (which Lady Bird has no problem embracing… clearly), home, nostalgia, what it means to be a family, and financial security. It’s quite a lot to take in in just ten opening pages, but Gerwig manages it deftly.
Having Lady Bird talk about college with her mother and then Julie works because, well, she’s a senior in high school, of course she’d be talking about college. But it also works on a technical standpoint because it allows a natural way for the money issue to be brought up.
Much of the script features Lady Bird in every scene, but page 10 finds the script briefly checking in on Marion. This scene is important because it shows (doesn’t tell) what Marion does for a living and goes on to show her driving through Sacramento — home.
We learn Marion has to work night shifts in order to support the family, which adds even more weight to the theme of financial security. And Gerwig drawing attention to Marion’s drive home is important because we’ll later see Lady Bird do the same thing: driving through the theme of home, the theme of nostalgia.
THE DRAMATIC SITUATION
One could argue that the film’s dramatic situation could be summed up with Lady Bird’s very first line seen on page 1: “Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?” She wants to get out. She wants to go to college in New York — but money is an issue. She also wants to be herself because she’s perfectly happy being herself, as we see in the scene with Sister Sarah-Joan. Joining the theatre program allows her to be herself, while also maybe helping with potential scholarships for school, because, hey, you never know — might look good on the application.
But yes, more than anything, the dramatic situation is established right off the bat: Lady Bird’s love/hate relationship with her home Sacramento. And through this, the film’s other, perhaps deeper, dramatic situation reveals itself: Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother. It seems too cold to also characterize that as a “love/hate” relationship because it’s so much more than that. It’s a love story. Will they or won’t they find solid ground? Will they or won’t they see eye to eye? Will their love stay strong?
Travis Maiuro previously taught the craft of writing while pursuing his MFA in Screenwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. He also writes about movies here.