Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig’s Directing Debut is the Year’s Most Revelatory and Exciting Feature

This article was written and posted on October 29.

Lady Bird is the biggest revelation of the movie year, a truly independent film, in budget and spirit, which “came out of nowhere,” to use Hollywood parlor. Watching the film (and I have seen it twice and enjoyed it on both occasions), you experience a real sense of discovery!

Update: Since its theatrical release, “Lady Bird” has scored major achievements, both with the Gotham Independent Feature Awards and with the National Board of Review (NBR).

As of today, the movie has earned over $12 million at the domestic box-office, due to the combined effect of great reviews (one of few films to score 100 percent positive reviews on RottenTomatoes, strong word-of-mouth, and brilliant marketing campaign by A24.

Representing the stunning directing debut of Greta Gerwig, better known until now as a versatile actress, the highly acclaimed film is distributed by A24.

This season, A24 boasts the most impressive slate of movies.  In addition to “Lady Bird,” the relatively new company also has “Disaster Artist,” starring James Franco, and “The Florida Project,” in which Willem Dafoe gives one of his most impressive performances.

Gerwig, who is 34, rose to prominence through her affiliation with what is broadly known as the mumblecore film movement.  She appeared in a number of films by Joe Swanberg, she co-wrote and co-directed some of them.

Gerwig has collaborated with Noah Baumbach on “Greenberg” (2010), “Frances Ha” (2012), earning a Golden Globe nomination, and “Mistress America (2015).

She has elevated almost every film she had starred in, including Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress”(2011), Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love” (2012), “Jackie” (2016), and Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” (2016), which earned her Supporting Actress nomination from the Critics’ Choice Award

A (Female) Rebel Without a Cause

In Lady Bird, Gerwig shows a fresh, bold cinematic voice in making a feature that on the surfcae, but only on the surface, is a familiar American genre: a mother-daughter melodrama, sort of a female “Rebel Without a Cause,” to use an analogy with James Dean’s cult movie of 1955.
Right from the first scene, Gerwih, who also wrote the picture, reinvents the conventions of this genre by depicting a rebellious high-schooler from the inside.  Here is a film that could only have been made by a female director, finding the the humor and pathos, the serious drama but also frivolous melodrama that prevail in the turbulent bond between a tough working class mother and her equally tough and stubborn teenage daughter.
The vastly talented Saoirse Ronan, already boasting two Oscar nominations, plays Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson.  Though she tries to be original and different, in many ways she resembles her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf).
Metcalf has never been better in playing a working mother, a nurse who works tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job.
Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, Lady Bird offers an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty and warmth of a place called home, even if is located on the “wrong side” of the tracks.
Below please find some insights from the interview with writer-director Greta Gerwig:

Personal Movie?

Greta Gerwig: I just have to say because I have known you all for a long time as an actor, I am very honored, but also very nervous to be here as a director and excited to talk to you–this is also a new thing.  I wrote the character and it took me a long time to write this script because that’s just my process.  It takes me a couple of years to get through it and I write really long scripts and then I cut them down and to me, “Lady Bird” was kind of this amazing, fictional heroine who is flawed and had a lot of the facts as my life.  I am from Sacramento California and I did go to an all-Catholic’s girl for High School.  But, I was actually in many ways the opposite of Lady Bird and I never dyed my hair bright red, I never made anyone call me by a different name and I was much more a school following type of kid.

Writing?

GG: When I wrote the part, it was a way for me to explore something that I wasn’t able to access.  I wanted to make something about home, and how home and family is something that you can only understand as you are leaving it and as it is kind of receding from view and then you realize how much you loved it and how much it meant to you.

Inspired by?

GG: I was really inspired about movies with memories of childhood and particularly about young men, Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Fellini’s “Amarcord” and that kind of looking back and reconstructing, with some things becoming fantasy and some things staying in reality.

Saoirse Ronan as Heroine

GG: When Saoirse Ronan, who is such an extraordinary actress, read the script, she said to me, I am from Ireland, in a tiny town, all across the world, and I understand this movie in my bones, I understand this part.  And we met up and we read the whole script out loud and she read Lady Bird’s lines and I read everyone else’s lines, and I just knew right away that she was the perfect person for it, because she wasn’t imitating me, and she was playing everything out of this extreme honesty.  Like the humor was out of just sincerity and it wasn’t something that was out of quotation marks or kind of had like a wink to the audience.  And to me, it made it that much funnier and that much heartbreaking and really when I think of the character of Lady Bird, I think of whatever my imaginative act was on the page.  And then I think of Saoirse just breathing life into her and creating this character and embodying her.  To me, I was always looking for the person who got that spark of genuine, unique life, and I never wanted her to imitate me in any way.

Claire Denis “Beau Travail”–Most Influential Art Film

GG: The filmmaker that made me fall in love with cinema was actually Claire Denis “Beau Travail” and I watched it when I was 19 years old in College, they were screening it, and I walked in and I had never seen anything like it.  And I felt like my hair was just blown back by it, and I had never seen something that felt like it was an art form so clearly.  I didn’t know it was directed by a woman, and actually I didn’t know that until the end of the screening and I saw her name come up and I thought to myself, that is a strange man’s name, or a lady directed this.  And even though it wasn’t like at that moment I thought oh I want to direct movies, it really did lodge in my brain as my first real experience of falling in love with cinema, was from a female director.  I love all her films and it’s also like that she is a completely different filmmaker than me, but I think that that maybe is what you always end up being attracted to, is something that is so outside your realm of experience and that is what I love about movies, is that it does bridge international divides and it does bring people together I can watch a movie that takes place in French Legionnaires in Northern Africa, and I have never been that person and I have never been there, and suddenly I felt like I was viscerally there.  And then I understood some aspect of these people, and that is what I love about it, the specificity.

I am now eager to see the second feature directed by Gerwig, hoping that she will not follow in the footsteps of other gifted women directors, such as Sofia Coppola (helmer of this year’s “unnecessary” remake of “The Beguiled”).

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