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LADY BIRD at ACMI: There's Just Something About Greta Gerwig

Gerwig’s solo directorial debut Lady Bird has become more or less a staple for contemporary indie cinema. It's a comedy-drama with all the classic coming-of-age tropes–jealousy and conformity, awkward sexual firsts and existential dread–that Gerwig makes so distinctively hers.

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Playing at ACMI in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, Focus on Greta Gerwig ran from July 6th until the 23rd, screening a number of films from Gerwig’s oeuvre–from her early days as an actress in the mumblecore scene to being nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards–all in the lead-up for the release of her much anticipated Barbie.

Gerwig’s solo directorial debut Lady Bird has become more or less a staple for contemporary indie cinema. It's a comedy-drama with all the classic coming-of-age tropes–jealousy and conformity, awkward sexual firsts and existential dread–that Gerwig makes so distinctively hers.

In Lady Bird, Saoirse Ronan plays the evidently flawed yet oddly endearing titular character Lady Bird (a self-appointed sobriquet) AKA Christine as she navigates the awkward fumblings of girlhood in the suburbs of Sacramento in the early 2000s. In her final year of high school, her desire to leave her hometown for the East Coast and apparent disdain for her life pushes her to make questionable decisions to fit in with her peers.

What really separates Lady Bird from other films of its genre is the dynamic between Lady Bird and her mother. Although we watch Lady Bird suffer through a number of painfully mediocre and short-lived romantic relationships, the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship is shown with a bleak, unforgiving realism as mother and daughter bring out each other’s worst qualities.

In their interactions, Lady Bird becomes snarky and ungrateful, and her mother goes for the jugular in retaliation. The opening scene exemplifies this perfectly–what begins as them tearfully listening to a cassette tape of The Grapes of Wrath in the car quickly escalates into a baseless argument where Lady Bird throws herself out of the moving car. Often each character is at their most unlikeable when they are on screen together; certainly a complex relationship. However, their interactions aren’t always bad, illustrated in moments such as Marion altering a dress for Lady Bird late at night after a series of double shifts–still in her uniform; or Lady Bird denying her mother’s perceived coldness to other people. But their obscured love for each other always seems to get lost in translation, making the all-too-real depiction of Marion silently doing laundry while Lady Bird begs her to speak to her all-the-more heart-wrenching. Although rare, these flawed moments of connection, tell us that the real love story of the film is that between mother and daughter.

Gerwig crafts an ode to adolescent growing pains with a sentimentality that’s hard to miss, even within the set design and costuming–bright, chipped nail polish, grown-out box dye and excessively collaged bedroom walls. Gerwig’s depiction of girlhood doesn’t necessitate explicitly traumatic events to be raw and impactful–I’m looking at you, Thirteen–but explores the complexity of relationships through common, relatable experiences of adolescence that never feels repetitive.

There’s a video of Gerwig that circulated online not long ago. It was a behind-the-scenes clip of the production of Lady Bird, Saoirse Ronan and Lucas Hedges laughing and toppling over while trying to film a scene–Gerwig in the background struggling to give proper directions while laughing at their antics. There is something so heartwarming about this video, a tangible fondness that translates completely into the film itself. It’s not surprising that it’s become a cult classic so quickly.

 
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