Lady Bird, the new film by Greta Gerwig, Speaking recently at one of the annual roundtables conducted by The Hollywood Reporter, writer-director Darren Aronofsky repeated a sentiment that we all understand, but rarely acknowledge.
Across the table, Jordan Peele was talking about how he approached the tricky task of getting (a presumably non black) audience to root for the protagonist of his movie, Get Out, in which a black person finds himself at the mercy of a racist white family. Peele, as you’d probably know by now, succeeded. Get Out was the first real cultural phenomenon of 2017, making millions at the box office and scoring a Best Picture nomination – among others – at the Oscars. Poetically, it arrived almost exactly a year before Black Panther. “And that’s the power of cinema,” said Aronofsky, coming back to the original point. “You can make a film about a six-year-old girl in Iran or an eighty-year-old guy in the UK and if the filmmaking works you can completely connect with them.”
Lady Bird, the new film by Greta Gerwig, is neither Children of Heaven and nor is it I, Daniel Blake, but like both those movies – one of which is about Iranian kids and the other about a British man – it accomplishes that unique feat Aronofsky was talking about. Even from thousands of miles away, it makes you care about the central characters and empathise with their problems like they were your own – because in all likelihood, at some point, they were. Lady Bird is a carefully written, sweetly poignant little movie about a girl coming of age in Sacramento, California, circa 2003. It wouldn’t be too speculative to suggest that it’s the sort of role Gerwig would have easily played herself had she been a decade younger.
Having seen the film – and being a huge fan of her previous work, particularly Frances Ha and her mumblecore phase – it was not surprising to learn that Gerwig was heavily influenced by the movies of Woody Allen – before denouncing him she starred in Allen’s To Rome with Love and has enjoyed a similar New York artsy intellectual reputation. And, after all, casting younger versions of himself is a trick Allen has been returning to for the last couple of decades, now that he’s too old to play neurotic New Yorkers in their mid-30s.
These are complex and conflicting emotions to project on screen, and Saoirse Ronan is pitch-perfect as the younger Gerwig, having daydreams about living in New York City and attending an artsy college that will inspire her, even if she has neither the grades nor the inclination to make her dreams come true. I read a recent headline that called Ronan “an Oscar veteran” at age 23. It’s true. She’s terrific in the role, creating, once again, empathy where there might not necessarily be any – assuming, of course, that very few of us are teenagers from Sacramento. But chances are, we have all experienced growing pains, and at some point during our formative years, have contemplated poisoning our parents.
Because Lady Bird is very much a two-hander. As much as it is about the life of a girl accepting herself for who she is, and understanding that who she is might not necessarily be who she wants to be, it is also the story of a mother. Laurie Metcalf, also Oscar nominated for performance as Christine’s long-suffering mom, captures the truth of a mother-daughter relationship that I, being neither, cannot fully understand, but can certainly appreciate.
Watch the Lady Bird trailer here