Lady Bird feels like the first movie to capture female adolescence in all its strangeness…
Having recently discovered the sublime writing of Joan Didion, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird had me at the opening Didion quotation: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” And so begins Gerwig’s solo debut, with these words splashed across the screen, looming over the audience and giving way to 94-minutes of perfection. After the disappointing – yet not surprising – Oscar winner for best picture this year, I have begun ruminating on the various nominees and, despite the fact that Lady Bird was nominated for Best Picture – amongst other categories – which is an achievement in itself, I cannot help but feel that Hollywood has cast Gerwig’s film off as too quotidian in light of something as grand and visually pleasing as The Shape Of Water. The Academy opted for the obvious choice, the safe choice, choosing to continue representing Hollywood through a cinematic and rather unoriginal – yet nevertheless beautiful – love story as opposed to something as fresh and resonant as Lady Bird. For me, it is precisely Gerwig’s fleeting, understated style of capturing life accurately that is a breath of fresh air and draws me to her writing and direction. Films such as this can go truly unappreciated in the world of the Oscars, regardless of the evident success with the public.
In a sparkling review, The Guardian have said of Lady Bird, ‘Lady Bird doesn’t exist as a twee indie movie construct, it feels thrillingly real and deeply personal, every single beat ringing true.’ Lady Bird is certainly free of clichés and lulls ,precisely due to the pace and witty dialogue with which it is imbued. In fact, for anyone familiar with Gerwig’s previous collaborations with Noah Baumbach in films such as Frances Ha and Mistress America, it is clear in Lady Bird that she has impeccably honed her writing style so as to create a script that is fresh, fast and endlessly engaging. I personally gravitate towards films with absorbing scripts, ones that are incredibly true to life and allow for a great deal of character development; this is precisely what Lady Bird does. The depiction of the mother-daughter relationship, played wonderfully by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, is the most accurate portrayal that I have seen thus far and speaks wonders to the significance of watching a film written and captured through the female gaze; the rollercoaster relationship between mother and daughter is something that almost any young girl will find solace and comfort in. Gerwig tenderly and effortlessly taps into the very core of human relationships.
She has imbued this film with vulnerability coupled with such spark and verve that I found myself unwilling to leave the cinema after the closing scene, desperate to find out where Lady Bird – or, by this point, Christine – went next and what she did with her life after that phone call home. This ending is a testament to the style of the entire film: a coming-of-age pastiche of first experiences and growing pains, but never lingering too long on the overly sentimental and nostalgic. Instead, each scene takes the viewer just briefly back to his/her teenage years, perfectly portraying the volatility of that period.
Gerwig’s scene cuts are a testament to the futile yet intense formative nature of one’s youth; watching the film was like watching my own experience of parties, family relations, boys and identity crises splayed out in a beautiful array. I loved the ambiguity of the aforementioned scene with Lady Bird standing in an autumnal New York, people milling around her just after she’s called home and the film suddenly cuts to black as she makes ready to get on with her day. As I left the cinema I felt almost as if I were about to run into Lady Bird herself right around the corner. This is how real and intimate Gerwig’s portrayal of people is. Ultimately, Lady Bird is one of the most clever and affecting films I have seen in the past few months – with the exception of Call Me By Your Name, but that deserves its own, separate article altogether. We need more films like Lady Bird and it is disheartening that the Academy has opted for the more generic option. The crisis of affect that our generation is currently undergoing is blindingly obvious in the film and literature that surrounds us today, with books such as Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends and films like Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird fiercely yet evocatively highlighting this crisis, rendering it meaningful and relatable. There is a gap in the industry for portrayal of the quotidian and the gentle. It seems to be something that directors such as Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach and Richard Linklater achieve impeccably; yet we need more of it. Thank goodness there is finally a woman on the scene to truly and effectively write the experience of female coming-of-age, of rocky relationships, ‘unspecial sex’, identity crises and the overwhelming strength of female friendships.
At the end of the film Lady Bird seamlessly reverts back to her original name, Christine, as she begins college. Like everyone else, she is simply shedding various identities and figuring out which works best for her; we would all be significantly more attuned to the more mundane happenings and issues of daily life if films such as this one dominated the Oscar nominations and, eventually, winners year by year. Gerwig has produced a funny, engaging, sensitive and endlessly quotable film and I believe it was severely overlooked at this year’s Oscars. The poignancy with which she handles her script and characters is what lends this film an entirely effusive nature; there isn’t a single thing in neither the script nor the visuals that feels out of place in Lady Bird; she has taken a universal experience (growing up) and somehow rendered it indelibly familiar and personal.
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