I want to go where the culture is

I want to go where the culture is

 

Once upon a time, we read clever words in books and took their meaning to heart. We believed we were the first to read them, the first to truly understand them. Once upon a time, we listened to silly songs and wept along with the lyrics. We believed that they told our tale, that they expressed the feelings in our souls better than we ever could. Once upon a time, we yelled at our parents. We believed they didn’t “get us”, and that they were just trying to tell us what to do.

Christ we were idiots. Beautiful, impulsive, energetic, living-out-loud idiots.

LADY BIRD is the story Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). She never much cared for the name, so she goes by “Lady Bird”. At least, she tries to – not everybody calls her that. Lady Bird is a senior at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California. She hates so very much of what her life entails, and cannot wait to move on to the next part of it. Her hair is haphazardly dyed, her posture is awkward, her vocabulary is precocious and often contextually wrong.

Lady Bird’s support system is a close circle. she has one close friend at high school – Julie (Beanie Felstein). Their days are spent trying to get good grades, flipping through magazines, loafing around their working class homes, and talking about what will come next. Their misfits, but they’re a pair of misfits, so not a bad hand at the end of the game. Her family consists of her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), her father Larry (Tracy Letts), her brother Miguel (Jonathan Rodrigues), and Miguel’s girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott). Marion is an overworked nurse, and Larry is an out-of-work executive. Together they are just trying to make ends meet. Lady Bird can sometimes make that very difficult with her temperament and grand ambitions.

As the story of Lady Bird’s senior year plays out, there are many up’s and down’s that will come at the hands of her friends and neighbours in Sacramento. For instance, she’ll fall hard for Danny (Lucas Hedges), when they both perform in the same play. She’ll see his life as something she wants to aspire to, and his love as something she needs.

Later, she’ll fall equally hard for Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the brooding intellectual loner. She’ll want to read the books he carries and hang out at the spots he finds appealing. She’ll see his apathy towards the world’s commercial trappings as appealing, and open herself up to more of his bar stool prophesying.

All of these people will play a part in Lady Bird’s grand desire to go away for university – far, far away. Whether that is something her family can accommodate, or something that she can even achieve remain to be seen. At this moment in time, it’s what she wants.

Tomorrow, that may change. Right now, it’s what she wants.

 

LB2

 

There is so much honesty in LADY BIRD that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s script has a keen eye on the way class can affect teenage lives. As adolescents, we are most drawn and tempted to a flashier quality of life. We have a desire for nicer clothes, bigger houses, better cars. We run off at the mouth about what we have, and put down others that don’t have it. It’s almost impossible to avoid, and can shape our behaviour more than we care to admit. We obviously see that in the film when Lady Bird pines for Danny’s family home, but we also see it in the way she wants to be friends with kids from a higher class. She might not be able to afford what they have, but pretending to be one of them allows her to sample that life…even if it’s not her life.

To get that, she has to lie. Is it bad to lie about who you are to the people you’re trying to get close to? Absolutely. Is it understandable? Also, absolutely. Lady Bird is desperate to “be more”, and fibbing about what she has in life is a shortcut. Adults nowadays do it all the time, and nobody ever calls “bullshit”. Perhaps because we all learned it as children, and just accepted it as the masks we sometimes slip on.

The trouble with slipping masks on and off like that, is that it can leave us unrecognizable to those that care about us the most. By the time Lady Bird gets to prom night, she has alienated her best friend and is just as distant from her mother. In the name of being “a better version of herself”, she has cast off some of the people who have brought out the best in who she already is.

Nobody does this maliciously, but we still do it. We believe others can offer us a better deal, so we trade-in people like used cars. What this movie wants us to remember is the value of those we often leave behind. Seeing them keep a light on for us, or offer tea and sympathy when we finally come knocking is a testament to how much these people are truly worth.

It’s difficult to see a teenager act like this and feel sympathetic to their position. For many, the tendency might well be to say “what an ungrateful brat”. However, this is where Gerwig and Ronan come together to turn condemnation into compassion.

Gerwig’s script and her direction in telling it underline the way teenagers live life so fully. There are no muted desires, few half-truths. As adults we may quietly wish to carry out plans or be something we aren’t, but it wasn’t always that way. Once, we loved beautiful strangers with all our hearts. Once, we counted the days until our great adventure could begin. What’s now “comfortable enough” was something we longed to escape. It takes a deft touch to show the beauty of something and the flaws that would drive one away from it.

Ronan, meanwhile, treads a fine line between free spirit and unruly child. She can be so very cold when she is challenging the parenting decisions of her mother, but then go and break our hearts when she catches a boy she loves in a lie. We shake our heads when she “poses” trying to be a cool girl, but we ache for her when she weeps over having her heart repeatedly broken.

Put it all together, and you get something very special, and something unexpectedly real. It’s a story about restlessness, self-doubt, love, pain, friendship, and family. LADY BIRD wants us to remember that teenagers have it tough, and that parents of teenagers might have it tougher. The younger are emotionally pulled in a dozen different directions at once, while faced with the daunting task of deciding what they want to do with the rest of their lives. The parents have to lord watch over all of that, and try to remain the voice of reason. their every decision will be heckled from the peanut gallery, and there is often challenges that cannot be discussed. It makes for points of contention – tangled knots that can only be untied with deep amounts of honesty and love.

This part of life isn’t easy – it’s a wonder anyone ever gets through it. LADY BIRD is an impulsive, honest, and hastily scribbled love letter to all of it. It’s for the people who tested our notions of love, and the people who taught us what true love really is.

 

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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