“Lady Bird” – Film Review by Aaron Darc
Go to: Aaron Darc – Film review artist's page.
In the wave of nostalgia products flooding pop culture currently, Greta Gerwig's indie crossover hit, Lady Bird, recalls 2003. Yes, 2003 is now retro. Feeling old yet?
Unlike, however, other blatant period pieces of late, Lady Bird never screams its nostalgia for an era too loudly (looking at you, Swinging Safari). In fact, if it weren't for its soundtrack choices and “cell phone” gags, the film could be set pretty much at any time in the last thirty odd years. Rather, its sentimentality comes through the Coming of Age trope – an emotional nostalgia for an emotional arc so many of us know. And with my own history as the cliché rebellious arty kid in a small town dreaming of a bigger life, it was a time machine I found easy to travel through.
It chooses for its setting that chapter which sums up the dissonance between childhood and adulthood so well – the final year of senior high school, where for characters like Lady Bird (and myself), we stand suspended on the verge of an escape we may, or may not, achieve. It is equal parts anxiety and idealism. And Gerwig nails it.
When we meet Lady Bird, she is the misfit of her small-town world, Sacramento; her hopes pinned on college to get her the hell out of there. She's smart, but not especially academic. She's pretty, but awkward and certainly no supermodel. She's bigger than her rural prison, but utterly naive about the world beyond it. Everything about her is in caught in between. And in so many ways, this is the paradox that not only defines her journey, but is what the film is largely about, and where its comedy and sentimentality become something existentially deeper. If all we are is where we are not, isn't where we are really who we are, after all?
Getting to the answer of this question is such a pleasure. I almost abused the poor girl at the candy bar when I traded what felt like far too long of the film for a wine and popcorn. I didn't want to miss a second of it, because every second was so goddam good. Just pour the bloody wine and let me get back to it!
It wasn't the plot, so much – which, when all is said and done, is nothing overly complex or ground-breaking. For most of it, it's all school reject comedy, and first loves, and first shags, and fights with mum about jobs and the future. Will she get the boy or won't she? Will the cool kids like her or won't they? Will mum ever cut her some slack? Sure, there's some progressive modern twists thrown in – a closet gay storyline, a recurring theme of class and economic shame. They give the film an edge, but it's never particularly sharp or shocking. It's just that the script, and the performances delivering it, are so pitch perfect, and so funny, there were umpteen moments when I would detach from the experience for a second, and through my laughter – my sheer joy – think, somewhat simply, “Wow, this is fucking amazing.” In short, I was having a great time. So, you know, shut up and take my money.
The climax of the film we are clearly heading for revolves around whether Lady Bird will, or will not, get into a college that gets her out of Sacramento. I know that crossroad so well, the memory of the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, the day I went to the local post office to get my HSC marks, occasionally resembles mild PTSD. So as we drew nearer to Lady Bird's equivalent, the comedy resided slightly because, well, what if she doesn't get out?
And when it comes, if I'm to be fair, we do at first find the film's only real fault. Whether Gerwig's capacity to pen a compelling narrative arc doesn't match her ability to create a singular portrait, or whether editing or the studio left far too much of a mark, the result is that the most important part of the film becomes rushed and doesn't adequately set up the epiphany it ultimately wants to leave us with. It's as if we get from A to B without enough justification of how A turned into B.
This is a shame, because the final destination is still good. Do we run to things or simply away from them? Is our rejection of others' love sometimes just our defence mechanism protecting us from the reality that, in truth, we desperately need their love? These are poignant questions, and what Lady Bird – if you're smart enough to get it (or maybe just similar enough) – wants us to walk away pondering.
As the small town boy who stuck his finger up at his little country narrative and followed his yellow brick road to the widescreen drama of the city, I feel ya, Greta. I feel ya.