When I was about 16 I stumbled across Frances Ha, Greta Gerwig’s writing debut, on Netflix. I fell in love with it and watched it constantly, I even changed my cover picture on Facebook to a black and white still from the film (oh to be an obnoxiously edgy 16 year old again). In the film Gerwig (as writer and leading actor) so masterfully captures the spirit and energy of being a young woman in our day and age. When news came that she was creating a coming-of-age film about a 17-year-old girl, played by Saoirse Ronan, whilst simultaneously creating a love letter to her home town of Sacramento, California, I knew I would love it. But I loved this film more than I thought I could. I want to watch it again and again and I’m going to tell you why.
The small town American teenager coming of age and wanting to broaden their horizons is not a revolutionarily new idea, but Gerwig approaches this project with so much love and respect for the leading teenage characters that it seems refreshing. The film tackles the end of high school, new love, first times, friendships, family relationships and mental health; all of this is handled expertly, in a neat 95 minute package. Extra points earned in my eyes as, and this is a hill I will die on, less than 100 minutes is the perfect length for a film.
Whilst the love life of leading-lady Christine/‘Lady Bird’ does take up a big chunk of the plot, it is by no means the central theme. The plot meanders confidently through a range of topics and emotions, perfectly depicting the teenage experience. Ultimately, the film is about who Lady Bird is and her relationships with the important women in her life and her thirst for more; she desperately seeks more culture and experiences. So many young women I know have seen themselves and their tumultuous teenage years reflected in the film. The film delicately examines the mother-daughter relationship between two, fiery, stubborn women and the resolution at the end is enough to bring a tear to the eye (or, in my case, a quiet sob in the darkened cinema).
Some of the most touching scenes of the film are quiet moments between mother and daughter; how easily a shopping trip revolves into a argument, only to be quickly resolved when finding the perfect second-hand pink lace dress. The quick change in tone encapsulates the human experience so well: the lack of need to apologise or acknowledge it as both women simply move on from the moment, another argument adding to the complex fabric of their relationship.
A similar scene contains some of the best acting and writing of the whole film, as Lady Bird and her mother, Marion, argue about what prom dress to buy. Lady Bird states that she wishes Marion liked her, not just loved her, but actually liked her. The beauty of this moment is how it reflects so much of the mother-daughter anxiety that appears in teendom: the eternal motherly love but the teenage desire to be liked for who they truly are. To put this complex emotional exchange in the setting of a shop fitting room is where Gerwig really shows her artistry and directing flair; something so complex set somewhere so ordinary, a true reflection of the life she is depicting. The film ultimately ends up being a celebration of female friendship, as while the boyfriends fall to the wayside, Lady Bird and Julie’s friendship is one of the most touching elements of the plot.
Under Gerwig’s direction everything is portrayed so insightfully and is perfectly reflected, down to how her and her parents interact, to the type of (terrible) boy she fancies and to how she decorates her bedroom. As a teenage girl who took down my pictures and painted my walls white as I grew up, seeing this exact symbolism reflected in film so lovingly was incredible. Her love interest Kyle, a masterfully written character, represents every terribly edgy teenage boy I’m sure we all found ourselves lusting after in our younger and more vulnerable years (if you still find yourself attracted to this rude, brooding boy, have no fear because you are not alone but please, sort it out). It’s clear that Gerwig is approaching this whole project with love and admiration for the experience of being a teenage girl. That desire to be loved and liked, to fit in but also stand out. She toes the line between joy and sadness so expertly. I want to live in Greta Gerwig’s brain because she just seems to get it.
There is so much more to be said about this film, from the soundtrack to the costumes, to the portrayal of the American class system to the family dynamic, but I’ll just leave it at this: go and see Lady Bird immediately.
– Lowri Ellcock
Featured image source.