Opening Up the Oscars: “Lady Bird”



An Academy Award

By Josh Petersen, Digital Managing Editor

Is “Lady Bird” too girly to win Best Picture?

For a while, it seemed like “Lady Bird” had a good chance. The critical reviews were rapturous and the narrative behind the film was easy to cheer for. The film’s director Greta Gerwig had spent more than a decade acting in and occasionally writing small-scale independent films. “Lady Bird,” her debut as a solo director, felt like an antidote to a year that revealed how abysmal it can be for women in Hollywood. Supporting “Lady Bird” became a sort of political move, though plenty of critics and viewers loved the film on its face. When Natalie Portman introduced the Best Director category at the Golden Globes by saying “Here are the all-male nominees,” the message was clear: in the post #MeToo landscape, talented female directors were no longer going to be denied a seat at the table.

But now with the Academy Awards just a few days away, “Lady Bird” is D.O.A. An article from Vulture predicted that the film would not win a single Oscar.  Of course, there could be a surprise on Sunday night. But from the beginning, “Lady Bird” was an underdog because it does not fit in the Academy’s prescribed tastes. It is openly comedic. It is not a masculine epic with “important” subject matter.  The hype surrounding the film turned damaging when audiences were primed to expect something different beyond the film’s modest narrative ambitions. But perhaps most damning, “Lady Bird” dared to suggest that the ordinary life of a teenage girl can be as fertile ground for great film making as stories celebrating masculine interests.

If my biases were not already loud and clear, I want “Lady Bird” to win Best Picture. I loved it when I wrote a review back in November and I loved it just as much when I saw it twice more. For me, Gerwig’s choice to focus on the minutiae lurking behind the typical coming-of-age drama is one of the film’s greatest assets. There is not a single scene here that feels unnecessary or out of place, and Gerwig’s clear vision and distinctive voice put her on the same playing field as any revered male auteur. “Lady Bird” is profoundly entertaining without ever sacrificing wit or depth. In the headline of my original review, I called this film “near-perfect.” Now I worry that this was an undersell.

Oscar prognosticator Sasha Stone recently pointed out that overlooking female stories is nothing new for the Oscars, saying “The last time a film starring a woman who was also a Best Actress contender won Best Picture was in 2004, with Million Dollar Baby.”  It is sadly clear that films about the female experience are rarely deemed universal, important or worthy of acclaim.  The single film directed by a woman to win Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker,” was a war drama with an all-male cast.  It is past time to acknowledge that even when women are given opportunities behind the camera, their stories are dismissed and devalued.  But, at least for now, it is a disadvantage on Oscar night to fight like a girl.

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