Written for a UCLA class.
Greta Gerwig positioned herself behind the camera this time to realize a near-perfect, modern coming of age film. After acting in several mumblecore films and movies like Jackie (2016) or To Rome With Love (2012), the 34-year-old has chosen to make her solo directorial debut surrounding herself with a golden cast. First, Laurie Metcalf, who plays the mother (and is nominated for Best Supporting Actress), but also young, promising talents that without a doubt represent the next generation in Hollywood.
Saoirse Ronan, who plays the main character Christine, is too keep an eye on. At only 23, she features in Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list and in Time’s “Next Generation Leaders” list and is currently contending for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars. Earlier this year Ronan won the Golden Globes for her role in Lady Bird, which was also awarded Best Motion Picture. Along with Ronan, comes more young and talented actors who will make tomorrow’s headlines.
This is likely not the last time you will hear about Thimothée Chalamet, who plays young student Kyle Scheible. The 22-year-old New Yorker is part American (on his mother’s side) and part French. Fluent in French, he also learnt Italian for his role in Call Me By Your Name, also nominated for Best Picture.
Lucas Hedges plays Danny, the boy Christine becomes involved with when they meet in the school’s theater program. You may remember him from Manchester by the Sea, another Oscar nominee in 2017.
Lady Bird is a comedy-drama, largely inspired by Gerwig’s personal life and own experiences. We follow the story of Christine, who dubs herself “Lady Bird,” and her complex journey from youth to adulthood. Christine is 17, a senior in a Sacramento high school in the 2000s, just as Gerwig was. Christine’s parents insisted she go to a Catholic school for her own safety, but she hardly fits in with her pink-colored hair. Her daily life revolves around her interest in theater, her first experiences with boys and her daily struggles with love, friendship, student life.
The scenario is simple, on paper it’s just another teen’s story. But what the movie is really about is the relationship between a daughter and her mother. Marion McPherson (Metcalf) is a struggling mother who strives to do her best to her kids but fails to convey her true feelings toward them, especially her daughter Christine. Christine tries to distance herself from her mom, from her origins, adopting the name “Lady Bird” and cherishes the idea to pursue her studies on the East Coast.
Her father has recently been put out of work, but her mother tries to keep their financial problems hidden. Christine, who is hanging out more with the popular, richer teens, self-consciously says she lives “on the wrong side of the railroad track.” Her mother’s attitude seems very unsupportive and critical toward her daughter though she insists she only wants her “to be her best self.”
The movie actually possesses more emotional depth than it first appears. On a soft, light note, Gerwig examines the tough love at the heart of a mother/daughter relationship. As she said at the Nominees’ night “Stop any woman on the street and ask her what her relationship is like with her mother. You won’t get a one word answer.” And that is where the movie hits the mark, sending us all back to our own relationships with our mothers. Most women will recognize themselves in the young Christine, in the constant conflict that separate her and her mother, but also in the love that keeps them linked forever.
When Christine finally moves to the East Coast after being accepted in a New York university, she takes back the name her mother originally gave her, Christine. Somehow, it’s only in a new setting that she reconnects with her origins and that finally able to see the love through her mother’s eyes. It is when we are physically distanced from our mothers the most that we learn how to appreciate and understand one another. By the end of the film, you may well want to pick up your own phone and call your mother just to tell her how much you love her.
As we approach the 90th Academy Awards Ceremony, now less than a month away, there is no doubt that Lady Bird and Greta Gerwig have earned their place among the other nominees. Indeed, this year is a grand cru for the seventh art; other nominees include Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, written and directed by Martin Mcdonagh.
Lady Bird and Gerwig have already won, in a sense, earning 5 Oscars nominations on a relatively low budget film, (only $10 million compared to Dunkirk’s $100 million) and on Gerwig’s first solo outing as a director. And, let’s not overlook the fact that Gerwig is only the fifth woman to be Oscar-nominated for Best Director in 90 years. Were she to win, it could signal a major change within the filmmaking community. As stated by the Academy president, John Bailey, at the Nominees Luncheon, the awards are indeed at “the crossroads of change and tradition.”
Lady Bird is a strong contender, but it will be hard for it to overshadow the other movies in race. As of February 5th, Goldderby, the website where experts and amateurs predict all of Hollywood’s award races, say The Shape of Water is likely to win the 2018 Oscar for Best Picture.. If this seems indeed like the most possible outcome, Lady Bird is still a movie to watch.