“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut that delves into adolescent life in an all-girls Catholic school, is now the best-rated movie on film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, touting a 100 percent “Certified Fresh” rating.
With an average rating of 8.8/10, “Lady Bird” has surpassed the 8.6/10 rating “Toy Story 2” scored in 1999, solidifying Gerwig’s strong directorial talent. Gerwig’s previous work on movies such as “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America” helped her break into both acting and writing.
“Lady Bird” focuses on the eponymous high school senior who yearns to leave her hometown of Sacramento, Calif., to pursue a more “cultured” life on the East Coast. The movie interweaves a web of female relationships in a story about the ups and downs of high school.
Gerwig sat down for a conference call with college newspapers including The Hoya to discuss her hometown of Sacramento, filmmaking process and portrayal of female relationships.
Why is a coming-of-age story that is focused on the female experience important, especially in 2017?
In a way, the story is a story that is so universal. But because there’s been a lack of female creators, it’s one that’s less documented than male coming-of-age. I love male coming-of-age stories and I have nothing against them, but I’m always interested to see what the female version of that is. Like what is “Boyhood” but for a girl? I wanted to make something that was about not only a young woman, but about a mother and a family and a place.
What other coming-of-age cinema might have influenced the creation of ‘Lady Bird?’
I was thinking about a lot of the different films that deal with both coming-of-age and growing up and occupying personal identity. I wanted to make a film that was both one person’s coming-of-age and another person’s letting go.
I guess I was thinking about the films that to me have to do with not just childhood but also memory, like Fellini’s “Amarcord” or Truffaut’s “400 Blows” — films that are both about childhood and about the loss of childhood.
What went into choosing the specific music from the movie’s time period?
Music is such an important part of what it means to be a teenager and how you form your identity and your taste and imagining an adult life for yourself. I was very careful about the music that I chose in the movie, because I didn’t want it to just be music from the year 2002; I wanted it to have music from the ’90s. In 2002, it’s before the streaming and all the other stuff, and you really got your music from the radio, and people were still playing the hits from 10 years earlier or seven years earlier on the radio. That was important to me.
I would be remiss not to mention my collaborator, Jon Brion, who wrote the music for the movie and such beautiful music. I wanted it to feel like it was pop music at the time that teenagers would listen to, and that it also had this old-fashioned movie score. I was so lucky that he was willing to collaborate with me on that.
Both ‘Frances Ha’ and ‘Lady Bird’ feature female relationships at the center of their plots. How do you portray these relationships realistically for all of their complexity and nuance?
I’ve made it a goal as a writer, and now as a director, to tell stories about women, stories in that the primary emotional relationship is one between two women.
If anything, they’re stories that are somewhat harder to get made or green-lit because they don’t have a genre. They’re important to tell because these windows into the lives of girls and women, to steal a phrase from Alice Munro, we don’t get to see if there aren’t female writers, directors and creators.
In terms of making it realistic, I never want to turn away from the darkness, but I also don’t want to make villains ever with my characters. I don’t try to present perfect people, nor do I ever want my filmmaking to take my characters down. I want them to be allowed to be flawed and to be loved.
Both the titular characters in ‘Frances Ha’ and ‘Lady Bird’ are from your hometown of Sacramento and both left for New York. How closely do you stick to the old creative writing adage of writing what you know?
I always start from a place of something that I know where it’s close to my heart. And with this movie, I wanted to write about Sacramento because I’m from Sacramento. And I wanted to write about Catholic schools because I’ve been to Catholic school for high school.
They start with some kernel that’s real and then very quickly the characters spin out and become their own people, and the events of the film have their own shape and form that’s outside of the events of my life.
Lady Bird is not directionless, but she has so many different interests. What advice do you have for other people who might feel unable to decide between so many directions in life?
I don’t know that many 17-year-olds with a very clear direction. There are always the ones who are great athletes or they know exactly what they want to do, but the majority of 17-year-olds are figuring it out. I don’t think that’s an indication that they’re never going to do anything. I think that’s an indication of being open and curious.
All these characters felt like people I knew, people I would go to class with and I would hear talking to me. What was your process with writing that type of dialogue?
One of the reasons that I’m interested in dramatic writing, in writing what is going to be said by actors, whether it’s in theater, which is my first love, or now in cinema, which is my adult love, is that I’m always interested in the way words fail us and the way that we use language not to say what we mean. People do that all the time. I’m always interested in the language underneath the language.
So much of who I am as a writer is a person who likes to listen. One of the things that’s great about New York is that you’re always in this circumstance where it’s very easy to listen to people talk. Mostly people use language to not say what they mean at all. And I’m always fascinated by that. One of the reasons for me that the ending is so moving is that Lady Bird is finally able to use her language to say what she means and she means “thank you,” and she says “thank you.”