Published Nov 02, 2017Greta Gerwig makes her solo directorial debut with Lady Bird, a coming-of-age film about the self-named title character who dreams of leaving her all-girls Sacramento high school for the culture of New York City.
It has all the tenets of a rebellious teen dramedy — dyed hair, experimental drug use and casual sex — but flips the typical Hollywood script on its head by casting a female lead (the excellent Saoirse Ronan).
Gerwig is keenly aware that very few female-driven coming-of-age stories make it to the big screen, noting that her favourite films growing up were The 400 Blows and Amarcord — both of which star young men.
"They were usually about a guy or they were centred around one guy, and I think that still holds true," Gerwig tells Exclaim! "I think there are lots of coming-of-age stories about young men that are about men's personhood, rather than their viability as a romantic partner."
In an attempt to quash the stereotypical movie version of a teenage girl, Lady Bird features multiple romantic storylines for Ronan's character — but even then, the director pointedly shifted the focus of the film away from her male co-stars. "I wanted there to be two guys and I wanted them both to be wrong," Gerwig explains. "And I wanted the love story to be with the mother, because that felt closer to life for me."
Gerwig herself has portrayed an array of complicated, eccentrically endearing female characters on screen in films like Frances Ha, Mistress America and Maggie's Plan. The latter was directed by Rebecca Miller, who told Exclaim! last year that while she was interested in bringing complicated, dynamic female characters to her movies, "the world is full of complicated, dynamic females, so I'm just reflecting that."
It's a sentiment Gerwig emphatically echoes. "Yeah, those are all the women I know," she says. "They're complicated, they're interesting, they're prickly, they're loving, they're jerks, they're heroes, they're everything. Cinema should reflect that."
Hollywood may still be a ways off from gender parity onscreen, but Gerwig believes that she's starting to see improvement. "The female producers and directors and writers are really what I think the change is," she says.
She names a long list of those women who she's encountered on the recent festival circuits: Rebecca Miller (Arthur Miller: Writer), Valerie Faris (Battle of the Sexes), Maggie Betts (Novitiate), Dee Rees (Mudbound) and Angelina Jolie (First They Killed My Father).
"The list goes on. They're here," Gerwig adds. "I don't think it's changed yet, but it's not because there aren't people who are willing to do the changing. Hire them. Make their movies. Put them in positions of power."
An actor, writer and now director herself, Gerwig isn't vying for pity, though. She wants a stronger female presence in Hollywood because it would benefit the industry as a whole — just look at the success of a film like the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman.
"Sometimes people talk about female filmmakers as if it's an act of charity," Gerwig says. "It's not charity, it's money. There's an audience that will spend money to go see these stories. It's not something that's out of an altruistic act. I think movie studios should do it because of their bottom line."
Lady Bird comes out in Toronto on November 10. Check out the trailer below.