Film Review: Lady Bird (2017)
For a while, I considered myself a real lover of (post-)mumblecore media. For those who are not film bros, mumblecore is “the sole significant American indie film wave of the last 20 years to have emerged outside the ecosystem of the Sundance Film Festival”, according to the New York Times. Alicia Van Couvering of Filmmaker Magazine defined the genre very well:
The first aesthetic indicators (of the genre) are improvised dialogue and naturalistic performances, often by non-actors… Budgets are tiny. The plots hinge on everyday events. The stories are often obvious reflections of the filmmakers’ lives. Most characters are white and educated and pursue creative endeavors when not pursuing one another…
So basically all of HBO’s Girls. Which I had proceeded to binge a million times after realizing what great background noise that show made to my life. Mumblecore became the very kind of film genre that I envisioned my life in. Something about capturing the mundanity and confusion and excitement of being a 20-something year old figuring out how to adult with simple cinematography and relatable dialogue always hit a soft spot for me. Even though this genre was made almost entirely by and for white people (excluding some, like Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy), I found myself relating to so many of these characters’ lives, especially now as a bright-eyed and jaded 20-something year old.
I was the perfect candidate to fall in love with a film like Lady Bird. But oh my god, I really, really did not like Lady Bird. In an already dying film wave, this film felt like a last ditch effort for that genre. Lena Dunham (who has swept up so much deserved hate in the last couple years) may be the face of second wave mumblecore, but Greta Gerwig has been the main poster child for the mid-2000s genre. She finally garnered critical attention with her 2012 film Frances Ha and is now being sucked dry by the public with her directorial debut Lady Bird. The film, though not quite mumblecore the way Couvering defined it, is so extraordinarily plain and its themes are thinly stretched. Is it about Lady Bird’s desire to pull away from her Catholic upbringing? Is it about Lady Bird’s shallow throw-away of her friendships for popularity? Is it about Lady Bird’s tumultuous relationship with her mom and town? Because if the film just sat down for one second to singularly focus on any one of those, I would’ve actually liked the film. Instead, it felt like it was trying to narrowly hit all those themes back-to-back-to-back over the course of 94 excruciatingly long minutes.
What the film really was about was Lady Bird’s entitled attitude as a skinny, pretty white girl. And her laughable nickname. And the fact that she “shakes” (like shaking hands with people is so unique and special).
I know I'm being harsh, and this review is reading a lot harsher than maybe how I actually felt about the movie coming out of the theater. I guess I just didn’t understand why everyone in my audience was cackling and sobbing extra hard over every little scene. It was a perfectly fine movie, just also incredibly boring.
What my opinion of Lady Bird has signified to me is that I have reached a point in my media consumption where films about white people don’t do anything for me anymore. That’s not to say I’m shunning all white films (see: my love for The Florida Project), but films and shows that center BORING whiteness seem like wasted opportunities to me now. This same film could’ve been made about a person of color and it would’ve been 10x more interesting. And I guess that’s why I’m still begrudgingly holding onto mumblecore, because I also don’t want to see anymore films about ~extraordinary~ people of color (as empowering as those are). I want to see boring-ass people of color living their boring-ass lives because that’s what most of my experience as a person of color has been.
It’s exciting to see a woman have a viable chance at winning Best Directing and Best Writing for the Oscars. But I’m also 100% rooting for Jordan Peele to win those awards. I love Saoirse Ronan as an adorable person, but I also don’t really care if she gets Best Actress. Because, needless to say, #OscarsSoWhite again.