Greta Gerwig—Lady Bird
Gerwig’s first film as the sole writer-director, Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan as the title character, a spirited Sacramento high schooler who feels destined for greater things on the East Coast (“Lady Bird” is the fanciful name she gives herself; her parents know her as Christine but humor her nevertheless).
Although Lady Bird features many of the tropes familiar to American high school movies—prom, losing one’s virginity, best friend fights, wrong-side-of-the-tracks class comparisons—they’re handled in a fresh way, a deft balance between comedy and drama. Inspired by, but not directly drawn from, her own upbringing, Gerwig says, “It was a love letter to Sacramento, and I felt like what better way to make a love letter than through somebody who wanted to get out and then realised that they loved it.
“In a way it’s secretly the mother’s movie as much as it is Lady Bird’s movie. Somebody’s coming of age is somebody else’s letting go. And I was just as interested in the letting go as I was of the young people’s stories.”
Like many of its coming-of-age predecessors, such as Pretty in Pink and Blue is the Warmest Colour, Lady Bird has a strong class narrative running through it; a purposeful inclusion by Gerwig, who greatly admires English filmmaker Mike Leigh.
“Class is a very difficult thing in America,” she says. “We’re uncomfortable with class and how that works but I think it’s something that’s an invisible force that shapes a lot of people’s lives.
“Life is not fair, and resources are not divided fairly, either in talents or in economics. […] One thing that I wanted to explore is: Lady Bird’s always looking up at other people, and people she thinks have more, and have it all together, and meanwhile those people are looking up at other people. And she doesn’t see how much she has, because in a culture of ‘more more more’ and ‘I always need to get to the next level’, there’s no way that you can appreciate what you have.
“It’s that disease of always looking up and never being where you are.”
On the challenge of directing, Gerwig says her acting experiences stood her in good stead: “One of the reasons is that most directors only ever are on their own sets! They don’t actually know how anyone else does it. And I’ve been on a lot of sets, and I’ve seen a lot of different ways of working and a lot of different ways of relating to actors and crew, and I’ve sort of seen what works and what doesn’t work, and I took all these ideas that I’d been gathering over the years.
“And they could be as little as things like having your crew wear name-tags every day. Which sounds small, but… if you switch out camera operator and [the actors] don’t know who the new person is, and you know, because you’ve talked to them, but they don’t know. I stole that from Mike Mills on 20th Century Women. So I felt like that was helpful.