Ger­wig hones fine, fe­male gaze in com­ing-of-age story ‘Lady Bird’

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - AUSTIN360 SUNDAY - By Charles Ealy

Like her main char­ac­ter in her new movie, “Lady Bird,” writer/ direc­tor Greta Ger­wig grew up in Sacra­mento, Calif., had as­pi­ra­tions as an artist and moved to the East Coast for col­lege. And she says a lot of her world­view is re­flected in the film in var­i­ous ways.

But it’s not au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal in any s trict sense, she says. “In a funny way, I was the op­po­site of Lady Bird. I re­ally col­ored in­side the lines. I was kind of a peo­ple-pleaser and a rule-fol­lower, and I like to get gold stars,” she says.

“I never dyed my hair bright red or made peo­ple call me by a dif­fer­ent name,” as does Lady Bird, whose real name in the movie is Chris­tine. “I never did any of the wilder things that Lady Bird does. But the real heart of the story feels like very close to my heart, and the story be­ing about home and how that home comes into fo­cus only as you’re leav­ing. You re­al­ize how much you love it as you’re leav­ing, and that’s some­thing I un­der­stand and think is pretty uni­ver­sal.”

“Lady Bird,” which opens Friday in Austin, can be seen in var­i­ous ways, de­pend­ing on your per­sonal out­look. But it’s fun­da­men­tally a mother/daugh­ter story, as Lady Bird (Saoirse Ro­nan) tries to come to terms with her opin­ion­ated, strong mother (Lau­rie Met­calf ).

As with most good movies, there’s more go­ing on than ini­tially meets the eye. Ger­wig draws on Greek myths, bi­b­li­cal tales, re­li­gious no­tions, the works of Flan­nery O’Con­nor and other meta­phys­i­cal in­spi­ra­tions to tell the story of a young wo­man’s se­nior year at a Catholic high school.

She’s a the­ater nerd. She wants to lose her vir­gin­ity. She longs to be con­sid­ered un­usual and artis­tic. And she’s ba­si­cally try­ing to come into her own as a per­son, as we all have to do.

But Ger­wig does some­thing dif­fer­ent with the script. She says she wanted the movie to show a young wo­man who’s try­ing “to in­habit full per­son­hood.”

“I think gen­er­ally movies about

young women are about be­ing val­i­dated as a per­son by be­ing cho­sen in love, by a boy … and I feel like there are a lot of movies about young men were the ques­tion is their per­son­hood, but few movies where that’s done for young women, with­out it be­ing con­firmed through a guy.”

And in a way, Ger­wig is try­ing to lead Lady Bird to­ward a mo­ment of grace, of full per­son­hood, much as O’Con­nor did in such short sto­ries as “Good Coun­try Peo­ple” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

“I love Flan­nery O’Con­nor,” Ger­wig says. “She wrote these amaz­ing jour­nals when she was 19 or 20 years old, and they are such in­cred­i­bly spir­i­tual jour­nals. And she has one pas­sage that I just love so much. She says, ‘God, please make me a mys­tic, and im­me­di­ately. You know I am a cheese, but you can do any­thing.’ And it’s just the most won­der­ful por­trait of the artist as a young wo­man, and also the depth of feel­ing that she has a teenager who wants to be an artist and a writer so badly, and she wants to be holy, but she feels like she’s lazy and kind of a cheese. I love that.”

Ger­wig is talk­ing about O’Con­nor’s “A Prayer Jour­nal,” which was first pub­lished in late 2013 af­ter the au­thor’s writ­ings were dis­cov­ered among O’Con­nor’s pa­pers in Ge­or­gia in a Ster­ling com­po­si­tion note­book. It was pub­lished by Far­rar, Straus Giroux and of­fers a glimpse into the life of a healthy O’Con­nor be­fore bat­tling lu­pus, which killed her at 39.

“Grace is a big theme for me,” Ger­wig says. “I have meta­phys­i­cal in­ter­ests. I have an in­ter­est in the on­tol­ogy of the world, and good­ness and grace are very in­ter­est­ing to me.”

And this is where the movie “Lady Bird” comes in, be­cause it breaks ground by be­ing so hu­mane, es­pe­cially in deal­ing with mother/ daugh­ter re­la­tion­ships.

“The sheer amount of ob­vi­ously ter­ri­ble things in the world is over­whelm­ing, but there is a tremen­dous amount of good, and I’m al­ways amazed by what’s in peo­ple, both the dark­ness and the light,” she says. “In some ways, the dark­ness is what you see all the time and is talked about, but the other side is equally present, and I love peo­ple who man­age to show or do that.”

It would spoil the movie to pin­point the mo­ment of grace for Lady Bird. But it’s in­ex­tri­ca­bly tied to her re­al­iza­tion that she needs to move ahead with her life, while say­ing “thank you” and ac­cept­ing the gifts of her back­ground, even though she has re­belled against them for most of her teen years.

As Ger­wig puts it, Lady Bird isn’t done with her home life just be­cause she gets on a plane and leaves Sacra­mento. So Ger­wig tries to use a Quaker con­cept of a “way open­ing” and a “way clos­ing.” The way open­ing makes you look at the next steps in your life, while the way clos­ing is re­al­iz­ing where you came from and that you can’t go back.

It hap­pens to any­one who has left home and pur­sued life in a dis­tant town. And it hap­pens to many who don’t leave but must still come into what Ger­wig calls full per­son­hood.

The road ahead isn’t go­ing to be easy for Lady Bird, es­pe­cially when you see her do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar to what the dis­ci­ple Peter did when he de­nied he knew Je­sus three times “be­fore the rooster crows,” fol­low­ing the Last Sup­per.

Ger­wig says she’s not a prac­tic­ing Catholic, but she is moved by the uni­ver­sal­ity of such sto­ries – that we live these sto­ries, even if we don’t re­al­ize it at the time.

The rea­son that “Lady Bird” is spe­cial: It cap­tures those feel­ings, the angst of ma­tur­ing, the un­cer­tainty of the fu­ture, and the wist­ful­ness of know­ing that you can’t go home again. All you can do is try to love your fam­ily – and to ac­cept their love, in all of its messi­ness.

“I am in­ter­ested in those fall­ing-apart mo­ments and then rec­og­niz­ing the mo­ment when you re­al­ize it’s OK,” Ger­wig says. “And that’s when you’re not stay­ing in your wretched­ness but pulling your­self up and say­ing, ‘All right. This is what it is.’”

AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN SCOTT MOORE/FOR

Direc­tor Greta Ger­wig walks the red car­pet for her film “Lady Bird,” which opened the Austin Film Fes­ti­val in late Oc­to­ber. The movie is sched­uled to open in Austin the­aters Nov. 10.

MERIE WAL­LACE/A24 VIA AP

Saoirse Ro­nan, left, and Lau­rie Met­calf star as daugh­ter and mother in “Lady Bird.”

MER­RICK MOR­TON/A24 VIA AP

Saoirse Ro­nan stars as a se­nior in high school learn­ing who she is and how to nav­i­gate the world in the new movie “Lady Bird.”

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