Lady Bird is an award winning 2017 film written and directed by Greta Gerwig. It’s a coming of age drama-comedy that follows our main character, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, as she navigates her relationships with her mother, her best friend, and herself. There are a lot of themes that can be pulled from the film, but one that particularly sticks out is the battle between exceptionalism and mediocrity. Exceptionalism is defined as the condition of being different from the norm (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exceptionalism). Mediocrity is defined as the quality or state of being mediocre and mediocre is defined as of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mediocrity and https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mediocre). In Lady Bird’s fight to be seen as exceptional she creates a new moniker for herself because it differentiates her from her peers, she dreams about leaving Sacramento and moving to New York City, she tries to date who she deems as the perfect guy and lose her virginity, while also trying to be a star in a play. Lady Bird’s mom, Marion, is the complete opposite of Lady Bird. She’s a nurse, wife, and mother and is content with the way her life is. She doesn’t understand the idea of being bigger than oneself and because Lady Bird is all about achieving the status of exceptional, it leads to a lot of tension between her and Lady Bird.
This conflict between the Lady Bird and Marion, and subsequently exceptionalism and mediocrity, is clearly set up right at the beginning of the movie. The main motivation for Lady Bird’s character is the idea that she’s meant to be more. One of Lady Bird’s first lines is, “I wish I could live through something” (Lady Bird, 00:01:36-00:03:30). This line alone perfectly encapsulates who Lady Bird is and the conflict she faces within herself and throughout the movie. Everyone at some point in time felt that they were meant to be more, meant to be better. They’re not satisfied with some aspect of their life and often pick one of two ways to deal with this issue. They either actively try to make changes in their life that they know will bring them happiness, or they accept their situation as it is, and continue living. After Lady Bird says this line, it leads into an argument between her and Marion, with Marion expressing how she feels Lady Bird is ungrateful for the life she’s been given, she’s not good enough to move to New York City, it’s a dumb fantasy, all while calling her Christine, a name Lady Bird doesn’t claim anymore. The argument goes back and forth for a while, then Lady Bird decides to jump out of the car, and she breaks her arm.
This beginning sets the tone for the rest of the movie with its conflict between Lady Bird and Marion, as well as showing that the way these two characters view their lives and their positions in life, is fundamentally different, and the main point of contention. The two ways of view life are on the complete opposite sides of the spectrum. One side views life in a dreamy way, where there’s always more to be desired, and that people can be more if they want to be bad enough. The other side views life in a realistic way, where it’s okay to live a slower or boring life, and that sometimes that’s what’s best. The film is able to show us both sides of the battle, allowing for the viewer to understand where both characters are coming from, and never making either side necessarily right or wrong.