Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

“Lady Bird” has both heart and disappointing flaws

Samantha Green
Contributing Writer

Up for five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, “Lady Bird” is the coming-of-age story of high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her desire to break out of California for a new life. The narrative follows her as she struggles to find her identity and navigate a complicated relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). Director Greta Gerwig communicates this tender but explosive story through nostalgic montages set to a score by composer Jon Brion, snappy dialogue and a fresh, inviting aesthetic.

Beautifully crafted as the film is, it falls into a trap of predictability, hitting a handful of coming-of-age clichés on the head: a quirky protagonist (with an eclectic bedroom) gets cabin fever, ditches her best friend for the cool kids, shuffles through boyfriends, falls out of love with the secretly obnoxious and disappointing bad boy, applies to colleges in a frenzy and moves into her dorm with a final “moving out, moving on” sequence. Gerwig executes these clichés well, adding to them subtle wit and a touch of melancholy. Piled on top of one another, though, these clichés gave me the impression that I had seen “Lady Bird” before.

The script revolves around Lady Bird herself, and though this is true to the coming-of-age genre, it is unfitting given what we know about Lady Bird. We see that her entire character is based on how she engages with others; because the story sticks so closely to Lady Bird’s perspective, we miss out on the deeper stories of other characters who are instrumental in building her life and personality. We learn that her father has depression, but the topic quickly fades away. Her brother Miguel is handed a major conflict — taking his father’s job — but we learn almost nothing more about this.

Gerwig offers us heartfelt characters who feel real and go through difficult things, yet we don’t get to know enough about them because we’re too busy running around with Lady Bird. The story Gerwig sets up implies that Lady Bird’s journey is fueled by people who love her, challenge her and push her onwards — the script, unfortunately, fails to deliver this dynamic to its fullest potential.

“Lady Bird” also falls subject to a larger problem in Hollywood: whiteness. The central cast is largely white with some exceptions, and the rest of the cast is sprinkled with actors of color who are given non-speaking roles. Though this problem may not be intentional on the casting director’s part, it feeds into a singular vision of life and of growing up through white eyes. This is harmful as it makes the coming-of-age story appear less universal than it really is. “Lady Bird” would benefit from including a more diverse speaking cast because it would do a better job of speaking the truth it wants to convey — a truth about the universal struggles of family and growing up.

“Lady Bird” is undoubtedly full of heart, painting real emotions with a tint of theatrics. It shows us a complicated mother-daughter relationship with love at its core and has moments of tenderness which linger and invite us to feel for as long as we need to. Given its shortcomings, it shows that a film can be good and flawed, so long as audiences and other filmmakers are able to recognize those flaws and learn from them.

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