Directory: Greta Gerwig
Bechdel Test: Pass
From her days as a mumblecore (yeah I said it) actress and writer to her relationship, both personally and professionally, with Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig has solidified herself as an indie darling. Lady Bird marks her debut as a director, but her voice resonates so deeply that it’s like she had always been one. With just her first film, Gerwig has staked a claim to the title of auteur. Despite not having an acting roll, every moment of the film seems specifically of the world in which Gerwig’s previous characters exist.
Lady Bird spans a full year, specifically Christine “Lady Bird’s” final year of high school the same year that Gerwig herself graduated (2002-2003). By focusing on such a tumultuous time in a young woman’s life, the film is able to explore a variety of relationship dynamics without being slave to a traditional plot. The prospect of leaving the life she’s known for one of her own results in an excuse to experiment with social identities. Throughout her senior year, she dates two vastly different boys and explores a new, more risqué friend group, leaving her longest friends behind, and tests her connection with family while seeking to leave them behind.
Saoirse Ronan plays the titular Lady Bird, a name she bestowed upon herself much to the chagrin of her mother. Together they serve as each other’s object of antagonization. Lady Bird as a high school senior can almost taste the incoming freedom that college will allow her, and longs to escape Sacramento which she sees as her prison. Her mother Marion, Laurie Metcalf, stresses herself with reality. She works double shifts at the psychiatric clinic so her family can scrape by while her husband is unemployed. She sees Lady Bird’s ambitions as frivolous quirks that should be stamped out in favor of more plausible ones. Her motivations reflect the reality that she knows, but this practicality barricades her from understanding her daughter. Despite these inherent differences in world view, Lady Bird and her mom still maintain a mother daughter relationship. Little moments between the two of them break through as genuinely sweet connections.
Gerwig’s direction brings voice to the women in her film. Characters are imbued with humanly and react with the nuance that reflects this. When events don’t turn out how Lady Bird would expect, her emotions reflect the wide gambit that a young woman’s would. Through all of her trials she seeks refuge in her friend Julie, Beanie Feldstein. Long evenings crying to Dave Matthew’s Band’s “Crash” in a way the feels both ironic and genuine. They understand each other deeper than anyone else, and even months of fighting can be forgotten when they need each other. Their friendship reflects the unique bond that women share. This connection even more than the mother daughter one exemplifies Gerwig’s inherent understanding of her characters. The honesty in their emotions brings a level of relatability to the viewer. Their relationship resonates with other women in its reality.
Lady Bird’s relationships with the men in her life also reflect an understanding from a woman’s side of the interactions. When catching her boyfriend making out with another guy, she responds with anger. She has no interest in the opportunity to have a gay best friend, but is hurt and betrayed. Her emotions need time to heal before she can fulfill the expected stereotypical relationship a less in tune director would default to. Likewise, her second boyfriend’s nonchalant disregard for her attracts her, but instead of playing off the tired trope of women liking bad boys, she attaches herself to specific traits in him. She knows that he’s flawed but find that she can use his flaws almost as effectively as he can use her. She does her best to resist the eventual heartbreak, and when it inevitably comes, she’s able to rebound much quicker because of this arm’s length detachment.
Lady Bird is one of those few films that is genuinely perfect. Gerwig’s voice is everything that American Independent cinema needs. She can exchange the tired cliché roles reserved for women in the quirky Sundance genre with genuine, deep, lead performances. Saoirse Ronan isn’t a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, nor is she any other twee trope. The beauty of Lady Bird’s character and Ronan’s performance is that she’s you and me. She is every young woman struggling to etch out her place in life resisting the circumstances that would insist she follow a standard path.