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film fatales #34: lady bird (greta gerwig, 2017)

Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is a confident piece of work, a love letter to Sacramento (something I never thought I'd see). Saoirse Ronan looks close enough to Gerwig to bring the autobiographical elements to the forefront, and the film is populated by solid actors who seem to be enjoying the dialogue they have been given.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story, and there isn't a lot unique about the approach. Much like Real Women Have Curves (about which more in a bit), Lady Bird is less about breaking the typical rules of such stories than it is with introducing new people into the story, which has long been a place for young boys to become men. It is startling that even in 2017, the idea of a woman writing and directing an autobiographical tale about a young girl's steps towards being a grown up, is somehow surprising.

There is much to like about Lady Bird, and I don't mean to damn it with faint praise. But the critical response has been monumentally positive. For awhile, it held the record for the best-reviewed film in movie history on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing, Lady Bird has received 211 "Fresh" reviews and only one "Rotten"). It is wonderful to see a movie directed by a woman getting such acclaim. And Lady Bird is very good. But I confess I can't see why it has gotten such overwhelmingly positive reviews. Perhaps part of this is the methodology of the Rotten Tomatoes site ... a review like mine here would be counted as "Fresh", even if I'm not ready to declare the movie one of the all-time greats. It's hard to dislike Lady Bird, and the Rotten Tomatoes system may just reflect the fact that few people have complaints about the movie. Not all 211 of those reviewers think Lady Bird is the best movie of all time, but they all like it more than a little.

There is one big complaint, something I referred to when I wrote about Real Women Have Curves. Michelle Cruz Gonzales said Gerwig plagiarized Lady Bird from Real Women, finding the similarities too frequent to ignore. I encourage you to read her piece ("An English Instructor Asks: Did Greta Gerwig Plagiarize Lady Bird?"), along with a follow-up, "Of Lady Bird, Real Women Have Curves, and Revisiting the Question of Plagiarism". I don't think Cruz Gonzales is convincing on the question of plagiarism, but her arguments are crucial in identifying reasons why Real Women Have Curves seems to have fallen by the wayside while Lady Bird collects rave reviews. They are both coming-of-age stories about young girls. They both focus on the relationship between the girl and her mother. And both girls have similar dreams of going to college in the East. But, as one commenter on her blog wrote, "This is not a unique story." What is unique about Real Women is that the story takes place in a Latinx environment, just as what is unique about Lady Bird is that it is not about a boy, as is often the case, but about a girl. But pointing to the similar problematic relationships the girls have with their mothers is not evidence of plagiarism, just a recognition of where family drama often arises.

Having said all of this, Cruz Gonzales and others are right: Real Women Have Curves deserves more attention and a revisit, while there is something a bit bothersome about Lady Bird's impressive critical consensus. If you like Lady Bird, you should check out Real Women Have Curves. But they are different movies, and both are very good. 8/10.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

 

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