Lady Bird

The flaw in limiting the point-of-view of the film to Christine is that it sidelines Miguel and and Danny in the narrative, making it feel like the non-white and non-straight character are there in service to her. To center them and sideline Christine would be to shove a woman aside in favor of two men. A more complex narrative might find a way to include all three--and this film certainly isn't egregious in its depictions (Miguel is far more than a stereotype even if his character is underserved and Danny's struggles at least end up being sympathetic)--but this is the trap we fall into. Ultimately, it would have to be a very different movie to effectively represent each of these characters without underserving them, and in this case (not all, not most, but in this case) that might be a disservice. Others likely disagree, as I have enough in common with Christine and her mother to find resonance there more so than with Danny or Miguel, but the tight focus on Christine's perspective made this film an intense experience for me.

My relationship with my mother is nothing like Christine's relationship with her mother, but the fact that my mother is not the sort to hold my independence against me (she would like it if I lived at home, but) only made the fact that Marion struggled the way she did that much more powerful. I squirmed as Christine begged her to speak while she did dishes. The divide between them and the interminable, tormented silence of that scene (half-silence) was worse than any nail across a chalkboard. This was The Forest for the Trees kind of cringe drama, the sort where the sympathy for everyone involved makes their pain so inescapable that you can't help but coil in on yourself and pray for relief. The letters she failed to write speak volumes, and the filmmakers' decision to only show us glimpses meant the real message--her attempt to write them--felt so much stronger. The unspoken regret of not getting to see her daughter off--something it is easy to imagine her regretting her entire life--brought me to tears, the depth of her mistake leaving me feeling empty, a mix of horrified and saddened. Marion is not the central character of this film, not in a technical sense, but her relationship with her daughter makes her not just a parallel to the character study of Christine, but a part of it. Without Marion, we would not understand Christine at all.

There's a moment in the film that, when it happens, feels off, feels like a misstep. When Shelly tells Christine about Marion's kindness, it feels at the time to be an informed moment. The film, however, recognizes this--it's not some hackneyed "tell the audience what to think" moment, it's foreshadowing. Not long after, we see Marion at her job. It's one of the few moments of the film where Christine isn't in the frame or anywhere near it. It shows us Marion's kindness as she consoles a patient, shows her strength. Without both of these pieces, neither one would work. We are told (in a strong scene that characterizes Shelly beyond some silent, grumpy stereotype) in one moment, then shown in the next, and the two together confirm, fitting these parts of the narrative into the greater whole. The film is full of these pieces (we're informed that Miguel has a degree like his father's; we later see him going for the same job), and it seems like the entire structure of the film--which is at its core a character study--depends on it. Christine and Marion are two characters in an infinite loop of show and tell, defining each other and the whole of the story we see.

What's most important about Marion is that she fucks up in her own way as much as Christine does. What makes this a character study more so than a coming-of-age story are those fuck ups. We see Marion make mistakes over and over again, being right and wrong more or less in equal measure, and we see the same with Christine. Instead of a direct arc of innocent-to-sage, we get a satisfying stutter-stop maturation for both of these characters. Their behaviors make sense of the behaviors of the other, but not in some half-baked Freudian A to B kind of way. Instead, we come to understand that these two women have a lot in common and just enough that separates them, just the right qualities to clash at times. There's a brief line where Marion tells us her own mother was abusive, and that moment feels jarring and out-of-place in that it almost seems as if it is intended as a joke, but that spectre hangs over her character. Nothing she does, however, seems (to me) to be abusive toward her own daughter. Just... not always wise. This is not some fairytale of growing up and becoming an adult and figuring your shit out. It's an observation of something more realistic, despite its being couched in the slightly heightened tone of an indie drama. Christine is still struggling with who she is, even if she finally starts using her birth name (hello, trans girl here, name changes are Significant Stuff, okay).

Perhaps my favorite moment of mature behavior is at the dance. The montage of friendship and happiness that ensues there, the youthful abandon and the feminine camaraderie, gives the film one of its best detours from the standard narrative. That's when the film stops being about heterosexual coming-of-age relationships and allows Christine to shed a layer of immaturity in a way that does not reduce her nor rely on another character's rescuing her. Instead, she confronts her own mistake, makes amends with her friend, and soothes some of the pain she caused. There are plenty of other mistakes to make after that, but for one night, she is free, happy, and strong. That hard lesson has to be learned again later when she wakes up alone in another city, but at the time, it feels like it could be a great ending for the film. As the film rolls on, it starts to feel like another misstep, as if it's running over long, but the other climatic moments that follow actually do improve the film, bringing home its true nature. In the moment, it feels like a mistake, but in retrospect, it's easy to see the film would be incomplete if it ended there.

Though I characterize the film as a drama above, it's worth noting that it made me laugh a lot. Like, way more than I expected. Though there's one scene that is very much an actual mistake (the football coach theatre director thing? Another scene not from Christine's point-of-view, and really the worst in the whole movie), most of the moments of humor are understated pieces, mostly from the characters, that derive from Christine's perspective on the world. It's an example of comedy being woven into the purpose of the film in a way that improves the drama of it. These moments don't stand out quite like the sadder or cathartic pieces, but like so much else, the film would not be itself without them.

52 project: 142/52

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