With the film industry in disarray, torn apart by the misconduct of those in power, it’s quite clear that the position for a kind-hearted, fearless and accepting leader is vacant. We need a film hero who sees into the core of the human condition: the good, the bittersweet and the relentlessly, blissfully mundane. A figure who isn’t afraid to dive neck deep into the nitty-gritty details of grief and document what it means to spit in the face of adversity; to flash a welcoming grin and drop a sarcastic retort.
After all, the stressful events that have split the film industry in two over the last few weeks – trying and deeply troubling as they have been – have acted as the perfect breeding ground for a new kind of industry player to rise once more to significance. All we need now is someone who cares.
Greta Gerwig is a master of acknowledging and embracing the perfectly imperfect. Powering onto the scene via a slew of mumblecore indies before making it big with 2013’s Golden Globe nominee, Frances Ha, Gerwig has now turned her steady hand to directing. Her directorial debut, Lady Bird is set to hit Australian cinemas this coming February, and given it’s already garnering acclaim and praise from critics and viewers alike, it’s clear that Gerwig’s unique take on the tricky, lopsided experience of growing up is resonating with audiences at a time of considerable personal, political and social unrest.
What else would one have expected from Gerwig? She’s carved a niche within contemporary cinema, setting herself apart from her peers with stories that are empowering not only for women but for millennials generally. The compassion, kindness and unpretentiousness of her work is indicative of her understanding of the sensitivities of audiences – she is a creator who clearly depends on art to resolve inner conflicts. Capable of providing both a welcoming hug and an ear to listen, Gerwig is here and more than willing to accept your problems; to transform them into an intensely emotional journey.
After all, given they are constantly being lambasted for seeking careers that align with their passions and not a pay cheque, and often being told they’re unable to accept criticism, millennials are facing the raw end of the media representation deal. And in this way, Gerwig acts as a voice for a generation of underdogs, lorded over by misunderstanding governments and struggling to learn how to connect with one another in a dynamic and ever-changing climate of digital communication.
This theme of inter-generational disconnect is at the heart of Lady Bird. Centred around the adolescent struggles of a young rebel named Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), the film is all about the conflict between the young and the old; about the horror of being ignored that both teenagers and retirees must face.
Moreover, the film’s focus on the domestic and how it can intrinsically shape who you are is rooted in the genre of the bildungsroman; those narratives about growing up, usually messily. And whilst the last couple of years have produced films like The Edge Of Seventeen and the Perks Of Being A Wallflower, we’ve yet to experience a groundbreaking and enduring classic. Although, if there’s anyone fit to reward us with a tale to stand the test of time, it’s Gerwig.
Gerwig acts as a voice for a generation of underdogs.
Each woman she writes, portrays and directs is formed by their own self-discovery, not the concerns of others. After all, as Gerwig explained herself in a recent interview with The Guardian, “One of the things that happens when you write characters – and maybe this is my own sentimentality – is that I always find I have an instinct to protect them”.
There’s a kindness and welcoming spirit in every character Gerwig brings to the screen; a kind of radical empathy, powerful enough to dissolve prejudices and predispositions, the sheer force of joy allowing Gerwig’s characters to evolve and grow. Which is exactly what the genre desperately needs: we have too many millennial-centric stories that are focused on fucking-up; too many dramas that leave no room for resolution and growth. The characters in Girls spent six seasons revelling in the decay of their youth without moving forward or growing whilst Master Of None is a show about glorified navel-gazers. And though both are exceptional pieces of pop culture, they don’t do well in branding the millennial psyche.
Conversely, Gerwig’s stories tend focus on how pointless it is to try to ‘figure life out’ in the first place. Frances Ha is about a young woman who remains positive amidst a series of failures, while in Mistress America and 20th Century Women, Gerwig takes on the role of the unenthusiastic mentor – a character who cares for others, but never pretends to have all the answers.
The post-Weinstein world will be a strange place for a while. Finally, we won’t be subjected to a string of Academy Award acceptance speeches dedicated to domineering cowards who utilise their position to hobble and intimidate. Those who have been ousted and unloved will have their day: it’ll be the voices of the underdogs that will usher the industry into a new era of acceptance and discovery without a militant overlord controlling the success and acclaim of the output. Hopefully on awards night the acceptance speeches will burst with the words of Gerwig and co. – a triumph in a trying time.
Lady Bird hits Australian cinemas early February 2018.