Featured Image: allocine.fr | Copyright Universal Pictures / Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24
Olivia Gatwood’s TED Talk ‘We find each other in the details’ explores the small, seemingly insignificant experiences of young women that make up who we are and our memories by emphasising ‘how our smallest memories can connect us to the larger world’. This is particularly applicable to young girls who often feel very isolated and unique in their experiences; yet Gatwood suggests that ‘this is where we find connection – through the specific’. While experiences often feel unique to us as individuals, when we listen to shared experiences, ‘we’re not looking for identical, we’re looking for connection’. This theme is explored in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, a female driven narrative which focuses on those quiet yet pivotal moments of teenage experience.
Whilst on the surface, Lady Bird appears to be a traditional coming-of-age drama like those of John Hughes, Gerwig takes a different approach. The film takes in tropes of the teen movie without feeling like it’s aggressively trying to change the genre; making it a true representation of female adolescence.
As most young women come to terms with the reality of their worth, Lady Bird is completely aware of her potential and self worth and will settle for nothing less. While this initially presents itself as narcissism, her blind optimism is endearing and respectable as it is her determination that propels her through the plot, achieving everything she sets her mind to. For example, when told by her guidance counsellor to be realistic about college aspirations, she proves her wrong by achieving the ultimate goal of attending a liberal arts college on the East Coast.
Ultimately, what shapes Lady Bird is not her romantic relationships, although they are great sources of comedy and personal growth within the narrative, but her platonic ones with best friend Julie and her mother Marion. Problems which arise in mother-daughter relationships are often caused by the indisputable similarities between one another. On the surface, Marion and Lady Bird appear to be the antithesis of one another, yet Gerwig uses her directorial vision to portray their similarities visually to the audience. This is evident in the shot of the duo sat side by side on the motel bed in the opening scenes, or the match cut of the two driving in the same place in the same car completing the same action driving through Sacramento. It becomes apparent that perhaps the reason Lady Bird and Marion fight so often is because they are so similar; the reason they can be so harsh and critical with each other is because they are one and the same – they see themselves in one another.
As Gatwood proposes, the small intimate moments such as watching Lady Bird share her awkward first kiss with Danny, or crying through her first breakup with best friend Julie to the soundtrack of Dave Matthews Band’s Crash into Me, allow audiences to create connections between themselves and Lady Bird banishing any feeling of loneliness which is common through adolescence.
The fact Lady Bird is being hailed as ground-breaking says a great deal about the film industry. According to a study carried out by CSWTV&F, in 2017, women comprised 18% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films. Greta Gerwig is, shockingly, only the fifth woman in Oscar history to be nominated in the ‘Best Director’ category. If female writers and directors were presented with the opportunities to share their voices, Lady Bird’s story would be far less radical.