F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote in his novel, This Side of Paradise, “I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.”
It seems every year viewers are suffocated by the same old coming-of-age story revitalized for the silver screen. In recent memory only Boyhood, Moonlight and a few others have been able to hit hard enough to win the praise from critics.
Lady Bird is an independent comedy, coming-of-age, romance, and drama film nominated for five Oscars in 2018. According to the film’s director of photography, Sam Levy, Lady Bird’s creator Greta Gerwig wanted to shoot the movie “like a memory” and was “[seeking] to offer a female counterpart to tales like The 400 Blows and Boyhood.” Lady Bird more than matches these standards. It’s difficult to watch this movie without it having a lasting impact on you and maybe even eliciting a call home to your parents.
Set in Sacramento, California in the early 2000s, protagonist Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is a high school senior struggling with her identity. At Catholic school, she’s an outsider. While she has one close friend, her fellow students either regard her as that weird girl with pink hair or ignore her altogether. When it comes time for Lady Bird to apply for college, she feels as though the school administration and her family are against her. She faces pressure from those around her to follow the beaten path, to apply only to local universities and to live a normal life. She’s discouraged by the prospect of never leaving home by her brother who went to the best school in California, but lives at home bagging groceries. Feeling like an outcast, she wants more than anything to escape Sacramento and travel to the Northeast for college.
In 93 minutes, Lady Bird undergoes nearly all the quintessential quirks of adolescence. The story takes place over the course of one school year – in this time Lady Bird rebels against her family, tries to climb the social ladder, and falls in love twice. She then sneaks out of her house, experiments with drugs, and loses her virginity in a manner which can only be described as disappointing. Lady Bird, played by the Irish Saoirse Ronan, experiences this emotional rollercoaster in an awkward yet candid manner which leaves spectators filled with both tears and laughter.
In creating Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig takes on the role of both writer and director. While Gerwig admits that her film is semi-autobiographical, she stresses that “nothing in the movie literally happened in my life, but it has a core of truth that resonates with what I know.” To make Saoirse Ronan’s character more reflective of what she imagines as a confused teen, Gerwig made the actress bleach and dye her hair red, asking her not to wear makeup to cover her acne stating that the film was “a really good opportunity to let a teenager’s face in a movie actually look like a teenager’s face in real life.”
Lady Bird has received a lot of attention since its release last September. In a limited opening weekend at only four cinemas, Gerwig’s film grossed $364,000 with an average of $91,000 per theater. This average is the second highest of 2017 and the highest ever for a film directed by a woman. On Rotten Tomatoes, Lady Bird got an overall rating of 99 per cent based on 250 reviews with an average of 8.8/10, and reviews from IMDB and Metacritic are no different. With all this praise, Lady Bird has been nominated for five Oscars in next month’s 90th academy awards. These nominations include Best Picture, Best Director, Best original screenplay, Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan, and Best Supporting Actress for Laurie Metcalf, who plays Lady Bird’s mother. Even if the film doesn’t win big at the Oscars, it will remain almost universally celebrated for years to come.
The greatest stories of this genre explore both the highest highs, and the lowest lows, of young adulthood. For almost everyone, it’s a period of extreme emotion, but also a period of extreme uncertainty. Unlike Moonlight, Lady Bird is not particularly original or groundbreaking in its narrative. It is not a film which has revolutionized cinema. Lady Bird does, however, exemplify the genre. The film is colorful and quirky with an almost Wes Anderson feel to it. It hits on all the tropes of the genre, yet remain freshly nuanced. In no way does Lady Bird seem pretentious, and in no way does it feel inaccessible to an audience who aren’t teenage white girls from California. Lady Bird is simply a film that evokes strong feelings through its imagery and characters, a film which will make you want to call your mother as soon as it’s finished.
I know it did for me.
Lady Bird is currently screening in the USA and will be released in the UK and St Andrews’ New Picture House on the 16th of February — The Academy Awards will take place on 4 March