Gather round, impressionable young ones, and I’ll tell you a story. Once upon a time- for example, in the 80s, when I wasn’t a girl because I hadn’t even been born- teenage girls were considered to be real, human people who had media actually made for them (see my fast-expanding collection of hilarious Jackie annuals for reference) instead of media made to rip out their beautiful, growing hearts and chuck them out of the window. Once upon a time, teenage girls actually had films made for them. I know, right? Unbelievable! As we all know, that time has long since passed, and now there are no more films for teenage girls- only, occasionally, a film about them but for an adult audience, like this one about a teenage girl who is a total jerk and messes everything up and doesn’t even care. The end. And that’s a nice, totally non-depressing story for you! Don’t have nightmares!
Is it a feminist film? Well, here’s the basic plot. A teenage girl whose name is either “Christine McPherson” or “Lady Bird”- she’s never quite sure- is having problems at school- she has a lovely and sweet best friend who she’s apparently desperate to get rid of, she’s always falling for the “wrong boy”- and problems at home, ie that she can’t stir a step without doing something really stupid and hurting the people who love her in some way. The fact that the first thing you see her do in the film (and, in fact, in the trailer) is open the door of a moving car and leap out onto the road, hurting her arm in the process, seemed to give no-one but me a teensy clue that our protagonist is, well, a bit of an idiot. Everything about this film rattles with me somehow, which is a shame, because I had high hopes for it. Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother- which critics have said is touching and relatable- seems to me to be dysfunctional and unpleasant, and none of their arguments feel realistic or like exchanges a real teenage girl might have with her mother. Lady Bird herself seems to get everything wrong, which I wouldn’t normally object to, except her levels of remorse are so low on all occasions that she is in urgent need of an “empathy transplant” before she blacks out from caring so little about other people. When she finds her boyfriend kissing another boy in the toilets, instead of actually having ‘a conversation’ with him, she simply shouts into his face “YOU’RE GAY!”- which is not particularly productive in any circumstance, especially since the film has not actually confirmed this. She is quick to dump her ‘nice’ best friend Julie for the popular crowd (a classic trope that literally NEVER happens in real life), and yet Julie immediately forgives her for this as soon as the popular people tire of her. The fact that Saoirse Ronan, who plays Lady Bird, is in fact 24 might account somewhat for the fact that she is so unconvincing as an actual teenage girl. And do you know how I know this? It’s because, at the time of writing, I am a teenage girl. And I know my own emotions, and also I am able to have real-life conversations with my mother without getting so angry that I suddenly just roar at her in a totally ridiculous manner.
And so, the truth is- I don’t like this film. I feel that the production is lacking- the jokes aren’t particularly funny, plot details are easy to miss or to not understand, and sometimes the dialogue is clunky (a prime example is where, in the middle of a random conversation, Lady Bird’s mother suddenly blurts out “My mother was an abusive alcoholic” in a monotone voice, and then walks out, as if she cannot handle the shameless shouldering-in of exposition any longer.) But that isn’t why I don’t like it. The reason why I don’t like it- and I am so, so genuinely sorry if you loved it and feel sad that I am writing this- is because it’s not a film for teenage girls. It’s a film about teenage girls, written and directed by people who have long since forgotten, if they ever knew, what it is like to be a teenage girl. What they don’t understand is that being a teenage girl isn’t looking at a fashion magazine with your friends and saying how thin the women are and how you wish you looked like them, and putting in details like that isn’t going to make it any more “relatable”. Being a teenage girl is pretty weird, and also sometimes fun, and sometimes angry, and sulky, and boring, and sometimes happy. Just like life in general, except sometimes different. But this film hasn’t been made for teenage girls. It’s been made for adult critics who think that saying it’s relatable is cool- even if they never were a teenage girl. And this is my problem. Teenage girls aren’t, on the whole, watching this. They aren’t watching it because it’s an arty type of film- a certain type of film. And for most teenage girls, this film isn’t available to them. It doesn’t make itself available.
I would say that the only good bit of this film is that, after Julie accepts Lady Bird’s apology (to paraphrase: “Hi Julie, you know how I dumped you for a bunch of popular kids and then you quite reasonably started ignoring me, and how now, while I’m going to prom in my beautiful new dress, you’re sitting at home feeling lonely and depressed and it’s all my fault? Well, let’s forget about that! Seeing as now my popular friends have dumped me like they were always going to, I’m planning to graciously re-accept you as a friend. So, like… soz”), they decide to go to prom together. Often in films and books going to prom with your friends is portrayed as something only losers who can’t get a date would do, but here it’s shown as something infinitely cool, and they spend the evening dancing and having really sweet photos taken of them. So that was quite nice.
Is it disturbing? No. I’m kind of running out of ways to say “no” at this point. So I’m just going to leave it at that. No.
And… does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes, of course- but then, I’m going to be a little bit harsh and say that for a film made in 2017, that’s a pretty low bar.
Basically, then- that’s my review. That’s by no means all I have to say- and if you ever meet me, you’ll know I have a lot more thoughts, and ideas, and things I’m angry about in my head than most people think I do. Pretty much everyone does. It’s just that so often girls get their point of view discarded. It’s my right, here and now, to say that I don’t like this film- not because it doesn’t portray my voice, but because it doesn’t portray the voice of any girl. We need to start making films that tell the world what we really think, and feel, because for so many years films have been a way to communicate popular sentiments across to people, and now we need to use them to portray real lives- not unreal ones.