Believe Care Invest: Lady Bird

Why Lady Bird might be hard to identify with:
  • She’s bratty. Her mom asks “How did I raise such a snob?” She’s a little racist to her Latino brother.
  • She begins by saying: “Do you think I look like I came from Sacramento?” We’ve never heard it put in quite that way, but we instantly identify: We’ve all wondered if our hometown leaves a taint on us. (Think about how terrible the generic version would be: “One day I’m going to make it out of this town and be somebody!”)
  • One thing that could fall under both Believe and Care: She’s strident about things she’s wrong about. Again, we empathize, because we all remember what it was like to be precocious. She seems believably 17, moreso than most screen teens.
  • Her mom is emotionally abusive: “You’re not even worth state tuition. Just go to city college, with your work ethic. Just go to city college, and then to jail, and then back to city college.” But she’s also accurate in some ways (“You don’t think about anybody but yourself,”) so it hits home.
  • She pretends to know who Jim Morrison is when flirting with a guy, which is the sort of thing that always makes us wince with identification.
  • She certainly does something active to protect herself from her mother’s verbal abuse, but it’s not exactly the cleverest solution: She jumps out of the moving car. Cut to a pink cast that has “Fuck you mom” written on it. So she’s kind of bad ass in a very hapless way.
  • We admire her gumption. She runs for student government knowing she won’t win, and makes cool posters. She tries out for the musical with no experience and she’s the only one who dresses up.
  • We admire her wit, although sometimes when she thinks she’s intentionally and unintentionally funny at the same time.
Five Es
  • Eat: She and the family have eggs. She and her friend wolf down communion wafers.
  • Exercise: Other than jumping out of the car, no. We don’t even see her in gym class in the school montage.
  • Economic Activity: Lots of class resentment. Eventually she will get a job at a coffee shop.
  • Enjoy: She and her mom share a good cry as they finish the audiobook of “Grapes of Wrath”. She and her friend giggle and talk about masturbation.
  • Emulate: She and her friend look at models in a magazine and say, “Why can’t I look like that.” They imagine what life would be like if they lived in a nice house. They say of a classmate: “She’s so pretty, her skin is luminous, we should try tanning.”
Rise above
  • She will later ignore her coffeeshop customers to hit on one guy and comfort another.
High five a black guy
  • Just the opposite: She’s a little bit racist towards her adopted Latino brother.

Lady Bird: The Archive

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Rulebook Casefile: A Small Thematic Detail in “Lady Bird”

In the opening moments of Lady Bird, Lady Bird and her mother are wrapping up their college visit trip around California, and they finish listening to the audiobook of “The Grapes of Wrath”.

The book, of course, is about a road trip from hell: The Joads are victims of the dust bowl in Oklahoma, but handbills lure them to California, promising a life of ease (“You can just reach out and pick fruit off the trees.”) They arrive to find that California is not nurturing after all, but rather brutally inhospitable. The daughter’s newborn baby dies, but she finds a man starving to death and offers him the only succor he’ll find in California: the grown man suckles her breast milk.

Just enough of the audiobook plays in the movie that, if you’ve read the book, you’ll be reminded of that ending, but if you haven’t you wouldn’t know what was going on. Any meaning the audience gets from that detail is dependent on the knowledge of the book we bring with us. But if you do know the book, the thematic meaning is rich.

Lady Bird is with her own un-nurturing mother, roaming California backroads looking for a place that will take them in, but she lacks high enough grades to impress them (She ain’t got the do-re-mi) and she concludes over the course of her road trip that California is not a state where she’ll feel nurtured. She wants to live through something. She is rejecting the breast violently when she jumps out of the car.

The main role the audiobook plays in the film is just to indicate that they’ve been at peace for 21 hours of driving, enjoying something smart together, but tensions are just waiting to explode as soon as the pacifying agent is turned off. But Gerwig had a choice to make: Which book? Writing involves dozens of such choices (and directing involves hundreds of such choices), and each is a chance to pack the story with more meaning, even if it will only be meaningful for a subset of your audience. Make meaningful choices every time you get the opportunity.

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Have Your Hero Take Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

Audiences want heroes to change, especially at the end, but we also have our bullshit detectors going at all times. We know that we ourselves have failed to fix our own problems, no matter how hard we’ve tried, so we know that any change the hero makes will have to be hard-earned and limited to be believable.

In some movies, like Groundhog Day, the hero is totally transformed into a different person in the end …but only after being trapped in the same day for a very long time (In the screenwriter’s mind, it was more than 10,000 days, though the final film doesn’t seem to go that far.)

But in more realistic movies like Lady Bird, characters don’t get that much chance for transformation. Like us, they can only change so much. In return for our movie ticket, we’re going to demand some change, but we’re going to call bullshit if we get too much.

In any movie where a character refuses to be called by their real name, there’s a natural ticking clock counting down to when she “accepts herself” and acknowledges the name. (Of course, the concept of “real names” has been challenged quite a bit in the two years since this movie came out, but let’s not get into that) This movie does deliver the pay-off we expect, but it immediately undercuts that. She’s at a party at her new college in New York City and a cute guy asks her her name:

  • COLLEGE BOY: What’s your name?
  • LADY BIRD (considering): Christine. My name is Christine.
  • COLLEGE BOY: I’m David.
  • They shake hands.
  • DAVID: You shake.
  • CHRISTINE: I shake.
  • DAVID: Where are you from?
  • CHRISTINE: Sacramento.
  • DAVID: Sorry, where?
  • The music was too loud, he hadn’t heard her. Second try:
  • CHRISTINE: San Francisco.
  • DAVID: Cool! San Francisco is a great city.

So she actually takes two steps forward, admitting to her name and her city, but then she takes one step back, abjuring the city when she gets a second chance. We believe in her hard-won self-acceptance, because we see that it’s got limits.

She’s not Bill Murray, she hasn’t totally transformed, she’s changed just enough to gratify our investment in her journey, and it’s so much more gratifying because it’s so small and believable. We’re still rooting for her to one day admit to a boy that she’s from Sacramento, but we’d rather she be real than right in this scene.

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Sometimes the Hard Way is the Bad Way

In my recommended structure I sum up the second quarter as “the easy way” and the third quarter as “the hard way”. The hero has a problem to solve, commits to it at the ¼ point, tries the easy way for the 2nd quarter, expecting a quick resolution, then everything culminates in a big crash at the midpoint, so the hero starts over again a little wiser, identifies a better and harder way to solve the problem, fails again at the ¾ point, finally adopts a corrected statement of philosophy, sets off on the real right path, and heads off into the finale.

So usually the hero is trying a better (but still not best) way in the third quarter. But not always. “Lady Bird” shows us a not-uncommon tweak on the structure.

The titular heroine still tries the easy way in the second quarter, has a big crash, tries a harder way in the third quarter, fails again, then gets on the right path, but in this case, the easy way was naïve-but-admirable, and the hard way turns out to be the bad way.

But the structure still works: It’s still the case that she’s working harder and more resourcefully and accomplishing more. The only difference is that, in conjunction with that change, she loses her moral compass.

This puts the audience in a tricky relationship with our heroine: We love her, so we’re hardwired to want her to get what she wants. In the second quarter, that’s no problem, because we love everything about what she’s doing. We love her best friend Julie, we love that she’s decided to fix her life by starring in a Sondheim musical, and we love her love interest Danny.

But then, in the big crash, Danny turns out to be gay, so we’re glad she moves on, and glad that she decides to be more active and canny in the third quarter, but, suddenly, she starts alienating us along the way. She cruelly ditches her best friend and the theater program, pursues a friendship with a mean popular girl and a relationship with a cool, anarchistic boy.

We quickly realize after the midpoint, “Whoa, I still love Lady Bird, but I no longer want her to get what she wants. I’m rooting for her to fail, or, if she’s going to succeed, to make it out the other side of this and be reunited with her original decency.”

And that’s what happens: She cannily befriends the bad girl and beds the bad boy, but then she ditches them at the last moment and runs back to her previous best friend. She gets a corrected statement of philosophy and gets her life back on track, so then we can fully root for her again in the final quarter.

Rulebook Casefile: How to Write a Comedy Without Jokes

In her DVD commentary, “Lady Bird” writer/director Greta Gerwig says

  • “One thing that was really important to me is that none of the actors ever played the jokes as jokes, or the things that I thought would be funny, that they played them totally sincerely, and I cast actors who are allergic to anything that doesn’t feel true, and I remember talking to Saoirse early in the rehearsal process and she said, “Oh, I’m--I’ve never done a comedy” and I was like, ‘Don’t think of it as a comedy. Play it 100% real and it’ll be funny.’ And she did, and it is because the reason, I remember the first time I heard her read it, I was like, ‘It’s so much funnier because you’re believing it, 100%.’”

When I was trying to identify the moment of humanity in the first scene, I had a hard time identifying why I liked the heroine so much. She made me laugh, but I wasn’t sure how: Sometimes we like a character because they’re “laugh with” funny, and sometimes because they’re “laugh at” funny. Only certain types of “laugh at” moments make us bond with a character—the character has to unintentionally attract our laughter in ways we empathize with, often when a character is poignantly but humorously vain.

Lady Bird’s first line is slightly vainglorious: “Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?” We identify with the dissatisfaction, ambition, and self-consciousness inherent in that line, but we don’t really laugh with or at her yet. In the next scene, she says “I wish I could live through something,” which is also lightly vainglorious and poignant.

She then gets her closest thing to an intentional joke, but it’s still more laugh-at then laugh-with. Her mother is reminding her why they spend money they don’t have to send her to Catholic school:

  • MARION: Miguel saw someone knifed in front of him at Sac High, is that what you want? You’re telling me that you want to see someone knifed right in front of you?
  • LADY BIRD: He barely saw that.

As they used to say in the Borscht Belt: “These are the jokes, folks!” It’s a somewhat witty retort, but we’re not sure Lady Bird even knows that. Gerwig is having the actors play for emotion and throw their jokes away, literally. We laugh, sort of with, sort of at, but Lady Bird would be surprised either way if she could hear us out in the theater. The character and actress are just feeling the emotion and reacting honestly, and we find it funny, but that’s our business, not theirs.

This movie is a masterclass in how to write a comedy without jokes. “Cheers” writer Ken Levine wrote a great blog post on this many years ago. It’s a harder way to write comedy, but it can be the most satisfying kind for an audience, and the more emotionally fulfilling, because the actors get to be totally in it, facing inward instead outward.

Rulebook Casefile: The Writer Gives the Villain Her Humanity in “Lady Bird”

One thing made me a bit uneasy about “Lady Bird” as I watched it. Kyle (Timothy Chalamet) is the movie’s caddish villain, but we first meet him reading “A People’s History of the United States” and we know he’s getting his hooks into the heroine when she reads it too. Later, when she accuses him of tricking her into sex, he attempts to change the subject by saying, “Do you have any awareness about how many civilians we’ve killed since the invasion in Iraq started?” (And Lady Bird wisely says “SHUT UP. Different things can be sad. It’s not all war.”)

But I watched and thought “Hey, I was the kid who loved that book, and I opposed the previous Iraq war when I was in high school …Am I the bad guy here?” But I could tell the movie wasn’t really saying that, so I wasn’t really put off.

Nevertheless, I was gratified when, in the DVD documentary, Greta Gerwig recounts a conversation she had with Chalamet, after she made him read a lot of political stuff to prepare for the role:

  • “And then he came back and he said, ‘You love this stuff!’ And then we had this whole joke, he was like, ‘The funny thing is that everyone will think that you’re Lady Bird, but actually, you’re Kyle,’ and I was like, ‘It’s true!’ Like when he says that thing about putting cell phones in our brains, I’ve definitely said things like that.”

It’s always good to raid your own life for specific details and gift them to your characters to make them come alive. Obviously, in an autobiographical coming of age story, Gerwig is going to give most of her personal details to her heroine, but she saves some for the other characters as well, even the villain—especially the villain, who is the easiest character to lose the humanity of.

I’ve talked before about how, in the opinion of actor Ronny Cox, all four men in “Deliverance” were aspects of novelist/screenwriter James Dickey. Every character needs humanity if they’re going to come alive, and there’s no better source of humanity than yourself. Thankfully, you contain multitudes. There are many people within you, so you can spread your humanity around.

Rulebook Casefile: The Crucial Use of a “Holy Crap” Moment in “Lady Bird”

Wow, so right away, this movie “fails” the first three questions on our checklist:
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
No, there’s no hook.  It had to depend entirely on reviews and a funny trailer. 
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
Not really.  The cover image is very slightly incongruous: a girl with colored hair at a catholic school, but that doesn’t really rise to the level of irony.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
No, this is just the writer/director’s life story, faithfully recreated with its original place and time, with the same stakes as the true story. 
This is the quintessential “small movie,” and it’s a perfect example of how to do it right.  Writer / director Greta Gerwig knows exactly what she’s doing, and she knows the risk of not meeting those expectations.

She could have generated some sort of hook, but chose not to. She could have amplified the irony of her real life memories. She could have transposed her own coming of age story into some bigger setting with bigger stakes (Post-apocalyptic! Learning how to overcome dragon overloads!), but she very faithfully stuck to the true story, right down to the year and city: Sacramento in 2002.

So how do you sell such a movie? Obviously, a big part of it is waiting to see if you get good reviews and them quoting them in the press materials. But Gerwig didn’t wait for that: She knew she had to add one moment that almost certainly didn’t happen in real life.* An outrageous moment. A moment that maybe no one would actually do, but we all remember feeling like doing it, and so it’ll delight audiences to see someone actually do it. A moment that would get a big laugh in the movie, and more importantly, in the trailer. A “Holy Crap” moment, in which Lady Bird jumps out of a moving car to get away from her mom’s criticism.

(In the script, she waits until her mom is slowing down at a light, but in the film they decided to push it farther and put them going full speed on a rural highway.)

Somewhat unusually, the “Holy Crap” scene here is the first one. This works well, as it also serves at the “problem becomes untenable” moment, which is always a good place to start this kind of movie. Obviously, her problems with her mother have been building for years, but this is the moment the movie begins because those problems have now entered the “life threatening” zone. It’s now an untenable situation. Something must be done.

* I wanted to confirm this, so I looked up and found this article, which confirms my assumption and backs up what I’m saying here:

  • Greta Gerwig wants it to be known that she’s never leapt out of a speeding car, even if the protagonist does so in Lady Bird, her acclaimed new film.
  • Why would anybody think she’d do such a thing? Well, maybe it’s because Saoirse Ronan, the Irish actor who plays the rebellious teen title star, does such a grand job of making us think of Gerwig, the popular comic actor (Frances Ha, Mistress America) who remained behind the camera this time as writer/director of her debut feature.
  • Lady Bird lives in Sacramento, Gerwig’s hometown. Her mom’s a nurse, she goes to an all-girls Catholic school and she embraces life with a unique sense of cockeyed optimism. Ditto, likewise, for Gerwig’s past and current life.
  • So the Oscar-buzzed film, which opened Friday in Toronto, is at least semi-autobiographical. But let’s clarify the car incident, which happens when Lady Bird is having one of her many “discussions” with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf.
  • “I never jumped out of a moving car,” says Gerwig, 34, during a recent Toronto promotional visit.
  • “I did get out of a vehicle once (during a dispute), but it was a stopped car. The car scene in the movie felt like, emotionally, completely realistic. Everybody knows the feeling of when you’re in a car and you’re fighting, and you want to push them out or you want to jump out, or some combination of the two. You’re literally trapped with the person in the space . . . I just always knew that’s how I wanted to start the movie.”

The Ultimate Story Checklist: Lady Bird

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson tries to make it through her senior year (and a bit beyond) at a Catholic school in Sacramento in 2002, fighting with her mom but not her dad. She acts in the school play and starts going out with Danny, but finds him making out with a guy. She ditches her friend Julie for cool girl Jenna and loses her virginity to cool jerk Kyle. Finally, she ditches Kyle just in time to go to prom with Julie as friends. Against her mom’s wishes, she goes to college in New York City, but calls her mom to make peace at the end.
PART #1: CONCEPT 14/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
No, there’s no hook.  It had to depend entirely on reviews and a funny trailer. 
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
Not really.  The cover image is very slightly incongruous: a girl with colored hair at a catholic school, but that doesn’t really rise to the level of irony.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
No, this is just the writer/director’s life story, faithfully recreated with its original place and time, with the same stakes as the true story. 
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Very much so. 
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Lady Bird
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
Basically.  It begins at the moment her relationship with her mom becomes untenable, and ends with the relationship’s peacable resolution.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
None of the relationships are tremendously unique, but they’re all original enough not to be cliché. We’ve seen relationships of the sort we see here with the mom, the dad, Julie, Jenna, Danny, and Kyle, but not with these well-observed unique details.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
Her mom is opposed to a lot of what she’s doing.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
Her greatest hope is to leave Sacramento and be cool.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
From the first scene, we see how volatile she’s become as a result of the stresses in her life.
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
She knows she will lose her mom if she becomes her own person, and she loves her mom. 
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
Yes, only she can be in charge of her own life in the end.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
Very much so.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
Very much so: It’s funny, romantic, moving, etc.  We laugh and cry. 
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
Again, just slightly with the colored hair in catholic school.  So not really.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
Very much so.  The way they sold this movie was by showing her jump out of the car in the middle of the argument with her mom in the opening scene.  It adds a “Holy Crap” moment to a subdued movie and makes you want to see it. 
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
Not really.  A bit with Danny turning out to be gay.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
She’s mildly funny (saying her brother barely saw the knifing that caused her to be taken out of public school) and vain in a mildly comic way (insisting on her made-up name and saying “I want to go where culture is, like New York.  Or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire.  Where writers live in the woods.”)
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
Jumping out of the car defines her
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
Jumping out of the car results in a bright pink cast with “Fuck You Mom” written on it, and she has pinkish hair, so that defines her strongly.  And she tells everybody her chosen name, showing she wants to fly away. 
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
She secretly loves Sacramento and her mom.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Developmental: We first see her listening to Steinbeck on audiobook and her voice is sort of Lost Generation-y (“I wish I could live through something.”)
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Her teacher then tells her “You have a performative streak”.  She’s overly dramatic, likeably shallow and vain.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Mischaracterizes her scene partner: (“I’m sorry I’m not perfect.”) Insists on her own reality if spite of evidence: “What I’d really like is to be on Math Olympiad.” “But math isn’t something that you are terribly strong in.” “That we know of YET.”
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
Her motivation isn’t strong: She strongly wants out of town, but nobody is sure why, including herself.  She waffles about whether she even wants it.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
“I wish I could live through something.”  Be careful what you wish for.
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
Win Danny.
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
Open fear: She won’t get into an east coast school, that she’ll always look like she’s from Sacramento.  Hidden, private fear: That she’ll lose her mom.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
Very much so: She has a cast, and she’s emotionally open to scenes that hurt her.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
She’s vain, she betrays her friend in a quest to be cool.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
She’s self-confident and goes for what she wants.
Is the hero curious?
Yes, she tries out theater, looks up whatever she can learn about things mentioned by the guys she has crushes on.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Yes, she rehearses for the audition, schemes her way into the world of the cool kids.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
I don’t even want to go to school in this state anyway, I hate California. I want to go to the East Coast.”
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Her best friend lacks her confidence.  Her family lacks her ambition.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
Not so much with her friend (which is good), but certainly with her family.
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
She jumps out of a car.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
Well, she’s trying to get more of it the whole time but yes, she pretty much in charge of her life.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
To a certain extent.  Her lack of skills is part of her problem.  But she shows uncommon social ability to navigate different worlds.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 17/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
Her first line: “Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?”
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
Her mother tells her she lacks the ability to make it out of Sacramento.  “You should just go to City College, with your work ethic. City College and then to jail then back to City College. Maybe you’d learn how to pull yourself up and not expect everyone to do everything for you...”
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
Sort of.  She pusues the real solution (applying for an east coast school) slowly in the background for most of the movie, but in the foreground she pursues other ways to be sophisticated and happy: Theater and boys she perceives as smarter than her. 
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
No, she’s not a hestiater.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
She’s applying to schools, doing theater, and pursuing Danny.
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
Her mom fights her at every turn, and she get pushback from her brother too.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
Sort of: She applies to college amibitiously despite not attempting to better her grades.  She accepts Danny without suspicion.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
She’s in love, loving theater.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
Danny turns out to be gay, she can’t enjoy the play anymore.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Yes, but this is the sort of movie where “the hard way” is also “the bad way” She drops theater and her best friend Julie, pursues a bad friend and bad boy, through subterfuge.  
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
Both of those relationships are unsatisfactory and she goes back to Julie.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
She has to race to Julie before prom ends, sort of.
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
Very much so.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
When she ditches Kyle.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 “She’s my best friend” “I’m sorry, I know I can lie and not be a good person but... Please, Mom, please I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you - I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, I’m ungrateful and I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I wanted more...”
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
Well, she pretty much just has to wait and see if she gets off the wait list.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
She goes off to school, despite her mom not talking to her. 
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
No, she’s off at school in the final scenes without all the other characters. 
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
She accepts her name, but then lies about where she’s from at a college party, then drinks herself into oblivion and wakes up at the hospital.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
She goes to church and then calls her mom and leaves a message admitting that she loves Sacramento and her mom.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 18/20: The scene where she hits on Kyle in the parking lot
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
He said before that he wished she’d been flirting with him, and he’d see her at the Deuce, which she assumed was someplay really cool.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
No, it starts at the beginning.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
She’s a little intimidated, because all of these kids are cooler than she is, and she’s definitely discombobulated to find out that the Deuce is just a parking lot.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
He’s reading a book when she approaches him and he’s reluctant to put it down.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
Jenna is making out with her boyfriend, distracting Lady Bird.  His dad has cancer.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Not really.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
Our rooting interest is complicated.  We love Lady Bird, but we’re not really on board with this guy, so we’re starting to want our heroine to not get what she wants.  (But we’re also seeing that the theater activity she’s skipping is now run by a football coach and amusingly lame.)
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Not really in that they both want to sleep with the other, but yes in that he wants her to be something she isn’t, so her desire to be with him puts her in conflict with herself.. 
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface conflict: Will he agree to a date?  Suppresed conflict: Who am I?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
When she pushes her “cool girl” thing too far and threatens to kill his family, he pauses and then says “What?”asdf
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
She’s pretending to be blasé but she’s asdaf anything but.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
He pretends that he’s getting her number so that his band can play his café.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
He has her write her number on his hand.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
A pen to write the number.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Well, he had previously announced that he liked flirting with her, but he wasn’t planning on following up until she pounced on him.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
Not really.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
Previously asked: What’s the Deuce?  How much does he like me? New: Will he call?  Can she continue to impersonate the person he wants her to be?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
We cut out early before they part ways, but not on a question.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
Well, again, we’re proud of her for going after and getting what she wants, but we’re not sure we approve of this guy.
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Very much so.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Very much so.  The dad is the wisest, but even he has his blind spots.  
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
Very much so. 
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
Coming of age movies don’t really have much jargon.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Metaphor families: Mom: mom, Dad: dad, Danny: theater, Kyle: left-wing politics
Personality traits: Mom: Critical, guilt-inducing, Dad: pitiful, loving, Julie: chipper, Danny: friendly, Kyle: Cool
Default argument tactics: Mom: Gut-punching, Kyle: Diminishing the personal in favort the political
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes, even the intellectual speaks realistically.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
All characters are 3-dimensional, even the teachers.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
She and her mom each reach out to the other in one-way ways, her mom with the letters she didn’t intend to send, the daughter with a phone message.  Maybe Metcalf would have won that Oscar if she’d picked up the phone at the end.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
NA: Not much plot, not much exposition.  They never explain why she has a hispanic brother.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Part #6: Tone 9/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
A straight-up coming of age tale.
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
No sub-genres.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
She grows up and moves away, but doesn’t find love.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
Poignant, droll. 
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
Well, we assume based on everything that it’ll end when she leaves town, but it goes a little longer, which tries our expectations a bit, but we accept it.
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
Not really.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
She worries she’ll end up loveless like her friend, broke like her parents, living at home like her brother.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
Danny’s gayness is certainly foreshadowed.
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
Refusing to be called by her name.  This always tells us that the movie will end with a character accepting her name.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
The story goes a bit past the end of the main dramatic question: Will she leave town?  But then we realize the real question: Will she accept her mom and what her town has done for her?
PART 7: THEME 13/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Contentment vs. ambition. 
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
The first line:Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?”
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Hang onto friends who may be holding you back? Kyle represents justice but not decency.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
Very much so.
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
Very much so.  It begins with a quote: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
- Joan Didion
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
They keep watching the Iraq war on TV.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
 Listening to the end “The Grapes of Wrath” at the beginning (in which California is un-nurturing, but a character is saved by breast-feeding.)  9/11 posters symbolize the danger of New York City.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
Maybe the cast?  The math grade book.  First Kyle’s reading “The People’s History of the United States” then she’s reading it.  Writing boys’ names on her wall then painting over it.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 She chooses ambition but realizes she also needs to accept that she should have been more loving towards her mom and her town.
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
She seeks out the comforts of home (church and calling her mom) in New York.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
She still hasn’t found love.  She still hasn’t told anyone the truth about being from Sacramento.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
No, she basically synthesizes it.
Final Score: 107 out of 122