What 'Lady Bird' Means For Young Women, And To Me

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By Claire White.


So, there’s this film, you might have heard of it.

It’s called Lady Bird.

It’s Greta Gerwig’s solo feature debut as sole writer/director, and stars the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracey Letts, Lucas Hedges, and your new #1 Bae Timothée Chalamet.

You might have heard of this film, the one where a teenage girl demands everyone calls her Lady Bird (her given name because it was given to her, by her) due to its monumental hype. Since its release in the United states two months earlier, it has graced many a Top 10 films of 2017 lists, was the best-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes since Toy Story 3, received a plethora of awards during the pre- Awards Season (with a capital A and S) awards, has two Golden Globes, and five Oscar nominations.

And the film is only being released in Australia today.

Having caught the film at an advanced screening, you can be rest assured the film is just as good as the hype says it is.

Featuring fantastic performances by Ronan and the cast (particularly Laurie Metcalf, playing Lady Bird’s intimidating yet kind and hard-working mother, who also has received award nods as supporting actress), this is aided by the perfection of Gerwig’s script. Here you have a complex relationship between a young girl and her mother. Both are fraught with frustration and desire for a different life, but, as a spirited and ambitious teenager, Lady Bird takes it out on her mother more. The way conversations can flow from a nice moment into bickering or a fight is rarely seen on screen on this level, and as a result, you leave the cinema filled with both recognition, because I can relate, as well as a desire to call your mother.

(Speaking of which, here’s a reminder to call your mother).

Ronan (left) and Metcalf (right) as mother and daughter in Lady Bird.

Everyone loves a good movie, but what is most exciting about Lady Bird’s journey is the subject matter: This is a contemporary (if we’re calling 2002/3 ‘contemporary’) story about a teenage girl about to go off to college, and her relationship with her mother and friends. Furthermore, it is an original screenplay written and directed by a woman.

Such a response is unprecedented, especially for a film with a Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director nomination.

In a recent post written for BFI, Christina Newland argues films about women or directed by women are not given a fair go due to the lack of male critics willing to take these films seriously in their reviews. As a result, coming of age films about young girls are often glossed over in Hollywood. Teen films are fun, but you will not find them at the Oscars line up or in a publication’s Top 100 Greatest Movies list.   

This is why I am so excited to see just how well Lady Bird is doing, especially as a strong awards season contender.

During awards season, all eyes are on what industry professionals deem the best films made from the past year. For film fanatics, every moment of the awards race is analysed and debated with the intensity of a fantasy football league in the lead up to the Super Bowl (of which I am guilty). On the other hand, the nominated films are the only releases the causal film viewer will hear as being worth seeing.

With its Best Picture nomination, Lady Bird is the first coming of age film about a teenage girl to receive the accolade since An Education, which received a Best Picture nomination in 2009. Prior to An Education, no such films were nominated.

While Nick Hornby was nominated for the screenplay, director Lone Scherfig was excluded. With Gerwig’s Best Director nomination, she is the first woman to receive a nomination for their first film, and is only the fifth woman overall.

However, An Education is not necessarily considered a teen film. While the lead character is a sixteen-year-old school girl, the film takes the tone of a mature period drama. The same can be said of Brooklyn, which was nominated for Best Picture in 2015 (also starring Ronan).

Ronan as Christine 'Lady Bird' McPhearson and the fantastic Beanie Feldstein as her best friend, Julie.

Seeing a film like this receive such high praise and attention is so exciting to see. It is about time we see young girls taken seriously in Hollywood. In the past ten years, teenage girls were almost four times as likely as male teens to be depicted wearing tight clothing, and were over twice as likely to be shown with some nudity. Over 50% of teenage girl characters had a romantic interest. Culture is shaped by film, and having these kinds representation force young girls into one mould. However, teenage girls are more than a girlfriend or sexual object to be desired.

While writing the film, Gerwig was aware of the lack of coming of age films about girls. Furthermore, where they do exist, these films focus more on romantic relationships with a  boy rather than a girl’s own personhood. “I thought what is Boyhood but for a girl, or what is 400 Blows but for a girl?” she said at the New York Film Festival earlier this year.

When the film won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), I was sitting in my friend’s living room floor, sobbing. Not only is this because a female written and directed film won one of the season’s highest accolades, but also because Lady Bird is the perfect example of a film I want to write myself one day—Films about young women and teenage girls; films about ambition and displacement and friendship and love; Films which view the everyday of a girl as worth noting—and Gerwig was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for that!

Every time I read an article on or interview with Gerwig, I am filled with an intense emotion of pride and inspiration. I am filled with an intense desire to go out and write. I feel seen, which is not a feeling easy to come by in this industry.  

Greta Gerwig on set with Saoirse Ronan.

Lady Bird joins a new era of female written and directed films about teenage girls. 2016’s Edge of Seventeen by Kelly Fremon Craig was delightfully touching and reassured me that I am not the only one to have had felt the same way growing up. The film was received well by critics, with lead actress Hailee Steinfeld receiving a Best Actress (Comedy) nomination at the Golden Globes. Like Lady Bird, the film was also awarded Best First Film at New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Other films of this era include Diary of aTeenage Girl, and internationally, Mustang and Girlhood.

Films like Lady Bird allow for young girls to see themselves on screen. For these films to be received well critically demonstrates an action towards teenage girls and their personhood being taken seriously for once.

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Lady Bird is out in cinemas now.


Cause a Cine do not own any images used in this post.

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