On Nov. 27, the Rotten Tomatoes editorial board announced that a new film, “Lady Bird,” written and directed by Greta Gerwig, had replaced “Toy Story 2” as the most positively-reviewed films in the website’s history. Gerwig’s first feature as a solo director, “Lady Bird” remains at 100 percent “Fresh” with unanimously positive reviews from over 180 critics. Other films with perfect critical scores on Rotten Tomatoes include classics such as “Rear Window,” “The 400 Blows” and “Before Sunrise.” The vast majority of them are directed by men, making Gerwig’s film a standout.
Originally, Gerwig entered college as a musical theater major since she was interested in pursuing the arts. She is a graduate of fellow Seven Sisters College Barnard and performed in the Columbia Varsity show alongside future SNL star Kate McKinnon. Her 2015 film “Mistress America” is reflective of her experiences as a first year at Barnard. Gerwig originally went to Barnard to study musical theater but ended up double majoring in English and Philosophy. She then turned her attention away from musical theater to becoming a playwright but was met with resistance after getting denied from all of the MFA programs to which she applied. Afterwards, she appeared in a series of independent, low-budget films before reaching success in Greenberg.” She then met her main collaborator, Noah Baumbach, and the duo has made four films together since 2010. Their creative roles are shared with Gerwig starring, Baumbach directing and both cowriting. Together, their films have achieved critical acclaim. “Lady Bird” marks Gerwig’s first film in which she is the sole writer and director.
In the past few years, a handful of female-directed films have garnered critical and popular acclaim, but “Lady Bird” still distinguishes itself from the pack, which includes Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” and Patti Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” by being an original screenplay also written by a woman, in this case Gerwig herself. “Lady Bird” indicates that women can make wildly successful, funny, touching and sensational films without the support of a man. Its success will hopefully usher in a wave of support around female lead films and serve as an inspiration for other aspiring female filmmakers.
“Lady Bird” is a story about the relationship between a mother and daughter and growing up to find your place in the world. The film would have been vastly different if it were told through a man’s perspective. So many female stories have been told and directed by men, and it is refreshing to see a woman’s story actually being told by a woman. The majority of female-centric movies—including romantic comedies and “chick-flicks”—have had men in the executive positions of director, writer and producer. When they present these female characters, they are often played out in the way that men imagine they should be. Many of these films get criticized for shallow and unrealistic female characters, which occurs when men try to write about the female experience. This, in turn, ostracizes the women who like these movies and creates a dichotomy of good and bad films, with female-focused films ending up at the bottom. The frustrating part is that these movies have the potential to be insightful and more powerful if they had more women involved. The success of “Lady Bird,” which is written and directed by a woman, focuses on a nearly all-female cast and passes the Bechdel test with flying colors,, will hopefully have the effect of ushering in a new era of filmmaking that highlights female relationships as told by women.
The lack of female filmmakers in America means we are missing out on an entire perspective and range of emotions. The way women interpret comedy and tragedy is wildly different than the way that men do; by giving women the opportunity to display their side of the story, we are opening up a world of possibilities.
Although “Lady Bird” has achieved critical success, one concern is that it will not be recognized come award season. There has been a history of female-led creations being snubbed for awards. In the nearly 90 years of the Oscars, only five female directors have been nominated, and only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has won. The most recent snub for an Oscar nomination was Ava DuVernay, who became the first African-American female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe with the well-received “Selma” in 2014. However, after criticisms and backlash including the recent #OscarsSoWhite campaign lead the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to invite a host of new and more diverse voting members, and considering how “Lady Bird” along with films like “Get Out” and “Mudbound” have done well in many of the early film awards, hopefully the trajectory towards acknowledging more female filmmakers and filmmakers of color will continue.