“Lady Bird” Breaks the Cliché Standards for Teen Drama Genre
Issue   |   Wed, 11/29/2017 - 01:12
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True to the trope of teen movies, “Lady Bird“ follows the conflict and quarrels between a teenage protaganist and her mother, but strays from the norm — and stays true to reality — through the moments of maternal love and bonding.

What’s in a name? This question drives director Greta Gerwig in her new film, “Lady Bird.”

The film centers on the tumultuous final year of Catholic high school for Christine McPherson, who chooses to rename herself “Lady Bird” in an attempt to alter her identity.

Although the film is set in the years 2002 and 2003, the anxiety and excitement that Lady Bird feels — and actress Saoirse Ronan expertly portrays — are timeless, and they will evoke similar memories in any viewer.

“Lady Bird” is also such a powerful film because it is painfully real, and unlike in many other teen movies, nothing is sugarcoated. Gerwig gives her viewers a truthful tour of her hometown of Sacramento, Calif. Her depiction of Sacramento is done with such care to color, composition and light that we are forced to see beauty in a place many of us have not necessarily ever been. Similarly, Lady Bird’s bright pink hair and arm cast force her to stand out from the identically navy-and-white-uniformed students at her school. Just as a nun at Lady Bird’s school teaches her that to love is to “pay attention,” Gerwig forces us to love both Sacramento and the flawed, stubborn and idealistic Lady Bird through focusing the viewer’s attention upon them.

Another way the film is faithful to the high school experience is in its depiction of Lady Bird’s strained relationships with her parents and friends that result from her search for identity. Although the film contains many tropes of the coming of age genre — drifting friendships, boyfriend drama and parents who “don’t understand” — it also has essential differences. For example, Ronan’s wit and attitude bring life back into the somewhat clichéd and tired genre. Ronan truly shines in the scenes with her character’s mother, Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf. The actresses’ ability to have their characters insult each other mercilessly but still demonstrate their love for one another captures the obligatory struggle between headstrong parents and teens in a hilariously realistic light. For example, when Lady Bird and Marion are shopping, they alternate between passive-aggressive bickering and delighting over their finds. Still, between the fights and silent treatments, the love that mother and daughter have for one another is not lost. For example, Marion’s innate knowledge that something is wrong after Lady Bird fights with her boyfriend demonstrates that, although Lady Bird may think she is grown up, she still needs her mother.

Further, Marion’s and Lady Bird’s plan to cheer Lady Bird up by touring open houses and imagining their lives in them both is heartwarming and alludes to the central message of the film — we are ultimately not in complete control of our destiny. However, “Lady Bird” confronts this realization with sympathy and shows us that although our lives may not turn out exactly as we intend, they will still turn out okay.

Unlike a stereotypical teen movie, in which everything seems to magically work itself out, Lady Bird’s attempts to control her own future ultimately fail, but that does not mean her life is a failure. My favorite scene in the film that demonstrates this is when Lady Bird abandons her popular boyfriend and friends on prom night after they decide that they would rather go to a party than prom. Lady Bird instead goes to her old best friend, Julie, and coaxes her out of her pajamas and into a dress so they can go to the dance together. Through the scenes of the two seniors dancing at prom, Gerwig reminds the audience that although prom did not go as Lady Bird intended, she still managed to enjoy herself and that is the important thing. Although Lady Bird’s romantic pursuits fail and she does not get accepted into her dream college, the movie ends on an optimistic note. Finally able to accept herself as Christine, no longer Lady Bird, she is able to enter a new phase of her life with confidence in her lack of control.

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