2017, directed and written by Greta Gerwig. Viewed at the Rio Cinema, Dalston, London.
Trying to write about all – or at least most of – the films I view both in and out of the cinema. Usually I would construct such reviews or thoughts offline but this results in endlessly editing, picking apart and rewrapping my language and thus, never actually publishing anything. So, in a hope to actually produce some quantity, albeit at the cost of some quality, I will being this blog with thinking about Lady Bird.
I was already feeling pretty down when I left the house to go to the cinema having been knocked back by some rejection letters from American Universities who didn’t want to accept me. Instead of having my boo-hoo story at home, I went to the cinema knowing that this is a good place to have a private sadness, one’s self is made alone in a room of others by the surrounding darkness except for the one side of light that projects and pushes onto your front.
Lady Bird was a loving picture, skilled in the seeming effortlessness of performances, script and aesthetics. Its muted palette and film grain create space for a nostalgia of not-that-long-ago, just long enough that we know we are “looking back” on some adolescence, one that took place in a time where mobile phones were not completely ubiquitous. The camera does not antagonise or mock any of its subjects, whether people, objects or places. No camera angles are made lofty or little in comparison to that which is framed. Instead, as viewers we watch at a fair height, not patronising, not submissive.
The narrative straight-forwardly follows Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) rest and wriggle in various relationships. The central of these is the one with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) which is fraught with irritations from both sides. What is somehow most well-played in the dialogues between these two women is the way in which both obvious and subtle aspects of class-identity are produced and inscribed in culture. Lady Bird occupies a complicated relationship to privilege. As someone on a scholarship at a private catholic school, this character allows for a rather comprehensive conversation around financial standing and social capital. On the one hand, Lady Bird does have education somewhat available to her, but in comparison to her school peers, she is read as significantly less well-off. This is repeated in the film’s text in various ways. The mother, often shown going to or from work at the psyche hospital in blue scrubs often reminds Lady Bird of the strain the family is in. Lady Bird and her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) discuss the houses in the nicer neighbourhoods that they pass on their way home from school. Despite what might be considered as aspirations of wealth, their desires are never pertinently about “being rich” per say, but remain grounded in colloquial and charming pleasures: “If this was my house, I’d get married in the back yard.” In the same tone, when Lady Bird discovers her father is depressed after finding some anti-depressants in the bathroom cupboard bearing his name, her mother’s explanation is neither an overly complex analysis of social pressure nor reduced to money issues. In this moment, a conversation is allowed which discusses the difficulties of modern life, the concept of success and the emotional fallout, backlash and reality of being a person in a place and a time.