I don’t mean to brag, but a friend at work called me a feminist the other day. It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever been paid. If my kids were 5 years older and understood the term, I probably would have rushed home that night and said “I don’t mean to brag, kids, but my friend called me a feminist today.” And I don’t think I would have exactly been bragging, but rather modeling for my son and my daughter the immense value of the word, and of the movement.
That’s a subject for another blog post, though. I bring it up here because I finally caught up with Lady Bird, despite wanting to see it ever since it was released to sweeping critical praise in late 2017. Greta Gerwig’s debut film is many things; but above all in my mind, it embodies the best and warmest and wisest kind of feminism. Lady Bird is a love letter to women. Or more accurately, it’s a love letter addressed to all of humanity, about women.
And it’s not only a love letter about the main character, high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by the preternaturally talented Saoirse Ronan, who is in nearly every scene of the movie. It’s also, just as potently, about Lady Bird’s mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf, so vivid and vulnerable that she got an Oscar nomination). And it’s about Lady Bird’s adoring best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein). And it even has ample room to shine a light on the ever-wise Sister Joan (Lois Smith) for a few lovely scenes.
All of these characters are painted in rich emotional detail. Gerwig’s humorous and achingly humane screenplay makes each character, including the men who are adjacent to these women, feel comfortably lived-in and deeply alive.
Rather than hashing out the coordinates of the plot, or gushing further about the performances, or listing all the many awards I think the film should have won (in addition to the ones it did win), here are a few things I love about Greta Gerwig’s film.
I love that the movie prizes friendship over romance. It’s sadly rare for any movie to depict a deep, believable platonic connection, between men (especially) or between women. The drama of romance — and sex — simply sell more tickets. But the relationship between Lady Bird and Julie is a friendship for the ages. Everything about it rings true. It’s full of humor and sadness and the stuff of life. And not just high school life, either, but life itself. I can’t think of another movie about a high schooler that feels more universally resonant.
I love the extent to which Lady Bird’s brusque, brow-furrowed mother is portrayed as equally compelling as Lady Bird herself. She’s never depicted in a patronizing way. And she’s never used for cheap laughs. By the end of the movie, I felt I understood her narrative arc almost as much as I understood the main character, even though she was in about 1/3 as many scenes. In this way, the film is an ode to motherhood, while also not reducing Marion to being only a mother. She’s a fleshed-out character who hurts achingly, and sometimes hurts her daughter as a result.
I love the final scene. My gosh, do I love the final scene. It’s so important that a movie stick the landing, and this one goes full Kerri Strug in that department. I watched the movie on my phone, lying in bed, with earbuds, and as soon as the movie faded to black, I think I audibly said “wow” in the dark to my wife. Everything about the hard-earned wisdom and warm humanity of the film’s approach to its characters is summed up in that final scene.
If you know me, you know I could go on. And on and on. But if you’ve gotten this far and are not yet convinced that it would be worth it to watch Lady Bird, I’ll just have to wave the white flag. However, if you’ve gotten this far and either beat me to the punch a year or two ago, or want to track it down soon as is humanly possible (FYI, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime), then by all means — let me know once you do! I’d love to discuss this movie with anyone who has engaged with it.
Lady Bird is a breathtaking, heartbreaking film. It’s a hilarious film. It’s a warmly wise film. It’s a film that understands daughters, and mothers, and fathers too. It’s a film with a deeply resonant worldview. It’s a film that’s light-hearted when it needs to be and poignant when it needs to be. It’s a film that depicts the ache of beauty and the ache of pain, but doesn’t revel (or wallow) in either for too long.
Oh and one more thing: It’s a feminist film.
As a feminist, I wholeheartedly endorse it and embrace it with open arms. And I will sing its praises to anyone who will listen.
So thanks for listening.
One thought on “Greta Gerwig’s Not-So-Little Ode to Women”
That movie is so good. Incidentally, I just saw Gerwig’s rendition of “Little Women,” and it channels the same themes. It’s so full of love.