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‘Lady Bird:’ A heartwarming tale of self-love

(Awarded D/Flickr: Creative Commons)

As the future of Hollywood becomes clouded by a seemingly unending torrent of sexual harassment reports, American viewers desperately need an earnest and exceptionally daring visionary to herald in a new era of the film industry. Although she may not be a household name, I firmly believe that Greta Gerwig can fulfill that role.

Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, “Lady Bird” is the story of high school senior Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (played by the young but proven Saoirse Ronan) as she braces for college and the greater prospects of adulthood, all the while handling the problems that come with secondary education: romance, parental control and, perhaps the most daunting, preparing for college. While essentially a coming-of-age movie, “Lady Bird” explores universal themes like the mother-daughter relationship and the loss of one’s virginity in an almost-brutally honest way. Gerwig does not play into the tropes, but rather balances them with unique characterizations and witty dialogue that has become a cornerstone of her work.

An example of her ability is how Gerwig handles the setting of a Catholic high school. Whereas some films like Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” rely on the parochial school as a supporting character to provide exposition, “Lady Bird”’s private school has much more subtle role. Like a backdrop for a play, the humorous banter between Lady Bird and the administrators who run the aptly-named Eternal Flame school undermines the typical strictness that is associated with the Catholic Church. The tenderness Gerwig shows in these conversations is just one of the ways she crafts a new story that subverts the recent film trends of bland stereotypes.

Building off the importance of setting, the theme of “where one comes from” weighs heavily on Lady Bird’s mind. Lady Bird aspires to attend a school on the East Coast, specifically Yale University, as she believes the Northeast to be more culturally relevant than her modest home of Sacramento, California. This notion that “the grass is always greener” fuels many young adults these days to be the best, the most ‘unique.’ Where one comes from, it seems, has become the basis of self-definition. Gerwig does not necessarily resolve this issue, but rather, through the perspective of Lady Bird’s romantic personality, embraces it with a love and composure that is severely missing in many films produced today.

Of course, this is not possible without the phenomenal performance of Gerwig’s leading lady. With notable performances in “Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones” and “Brooklyn,” Ronan’s filmography is quite extensive considering she is not even 25 years old. She captures the creative, but quirky female in a way that is reminiscent of Gerwig’s own acting performance in independent hits like “Frances Ha” and “LOL.” Ronan is bold and peculiar but not in an overly exaggerated way, delivering her lines with an assertive realism as if she created the character herself. In a talented cast, Ronan’s performance will no doubt be a topic of discussion come award season.

Many modern filmmakers, like Paul Thomas Anderson or Spike Jonze, have arisen out of the independent film genre to impact a larger audience with their distinct examination of American culture and the universal psychology of humanity. Gerwig’s appeal comes from how she blends the humor of an overworked and underappreciated millennial with the sophistication and charm of someone who is both highly attracted to and deathly afraid of fame and celebrity. In “Lady Bird,” Gerwig switches to the other side of the camera to give her own perspective on what it’s like to be a woman who, for better or worse, loves herself in the least narcissistic way possible. The argument over whether the film is autobiographical notwithstanding, the film does more than retell her story; it builds on the greater theme of her work: the most beautiful things in life are found in the small details of daily life. The most endearing quality of “Lady Bird” is that it could be the story of any young woman in the theater watching it. Her down-to-earth style is a breath of fresh air from the fake and self-indulgent habits that Hollywood has been pampering for far too long.

Eddie Clifford can be reached at edwardcliffo@umass.edu.

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