Lady Bird Celebrates Universal Love

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Lady Bird is in theaters now. A24

Of all the things that recommend Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, it’s subtle send-up of “the love interest” had the most profound effect on me. I don’t know that Gerwig set out to defy conventions with her directorial debut, but the fraught mother and daughter relationship that drives it calls into question the effectiveness of more traditional narrative approaches. Namely how arbitrary details, like gender, do nothing to sell the tension and reliability we’ve come to expect from romance in cinema.

Coming of age tales simply do not feel complete without the exploration of love, and all of its idealized highs and lows. Whether or not our heroes “get the girl or guy,” the experience changes them, and gives them and their goals a sense of depth. That description belies the antiquated notion that this sort of device has to be shared between a man and a woman to maintain peak relatability or at the very least be experienced by two characters that want to copulate in some capacity. Lady Bird presents the contrary. Its romance plot is informed by a mother and a daughter. All the sweet moments, all the suspenseful ones and the arc that typically accompanies two starry-eyed lovers takes place between two obstinate women, one middle-aged and burdened by the trails of being a breadwinner, the other a high school senior desperate to escape the curse of quotidian life. Lady Bird is an audacious and timely departure from how these things tend to go.

Our pop culture plays a massive role in defining social norms, more so than philosophy or politics anymore, unfortunately. As it stands, our understanding of gender and its cultural implications are developing faster than our art can reflect it. In some senses, an adherence to customary gender roles, especially as it applies to things like love, limits its potential to be meaningful. Love is an omnipresent force, that transcends all things obvious to sight. I caution against slackening it by the will of outmoded ideals. The titular Lady Bird didn’t need a traditional romance to earn her development, nor was the mother-daughter dynamic a simulacrum of one. its depiction is a reminder that these things can and should take all forms. For a change, a different breed of love inspires our heroine.

There is a future for all kinds of people, identifications, and sexual orientations in films. It’s slow going, but it starts with redefining the human experience and taking the chains off of it. Traditional cinema can’t have a monopoly on experiences and emotions by rights of aesthetics alone.  

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