Many people have grown up on the coming-of-age story. Enjoyable films like Clueless and A Walk to Remember were screened at many a sleepover over a family-sized bowl of popcorn. They were funny and capable of evoking emotions, but somehow there was still some kind separation from realism. After reading the basic description of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, you would expect it to fall into a similar category. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high school senior living in Sacramento, California, struggles with college applications, her place in the social food chain, and her tumultuous relationship with her mother. But somehow, Gerwig turns this seemingly ordinary story into something memorable.
I watched this movie with my roommate. I cried a little, and she cried a lot. A mother and a daughter, both with similar strong personalities, battle it out in cars and in living rooms. In the process, they delve into topics like class, and mental illness in a natural and plausible way.
At one point, Lady Bird’s mother tells her she loves her.
Lady Bird shoots back, “But, do you like me?”
The answer is an indirect no. This line is able to capture another part of what makes Gerwig’s film so special; its accurate portrayal of having your greatest conflict be with a person you love most.
Gerwig is known for her work acting in films like 20th Century Women and Mistress America but had not ventured into the world of directing until the fruition of Lady Bird, which she also wrote. Her original plan was to become a playwright. She studied English at Barnard College and proceeded to apply to a series of MFA scriptwriting programs. She was rejected from these programs and decided to turn to acting where she had more success.
In spite of her initial lack of success, Gerwig continued to write. She was able to co-write films like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Frances Ha. She also began to formulate the semi-autobiographical story that is Lady Bird. After many re-writes and edits, her script was to be produced, with her as the director. While she never went to film school, she said that her time being on set as an actress taught her how she wanted her set to operate. Her meticulous operation paid off as evidenced by her Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture for 2018.
There has always seemed to be a lack of women being recognized for their work in the film industry. Female directors have only received five nominations for Best Director since the start of the Academy Awards ninety years ago. Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman ever to have won. Nevertheless, Greta Gerwig believes that a change is imminent. She expressed this in a CNN interview.
“I am hopeful. I have to be hopeful,” she said. “When I meet girls, especially younger women who are teenagers or in their early twenties, who want to do this and I see how creative they and brilliant they are, I have to be hopeful for them.”