by Arianna Garcia

    I have seen Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s 2017 directorial debut, nearly twenty times. The first time I bore witness to this cinematic coming-of-age tale, my imagination took flight. Since then, I have tried to understand why I keep coming back to the film and why it continues to inspire me. Lady Bird is a truly phenomenal film in its seemingly ordinary simplicity: it perfectly captures the emotional cyclone known as adolescence while reminding the viewer of the irreplaceability of home. Whenever I want to be reminded of why I am pursuing a career in film, I turn to Lady Bird. It reminds me that all stories - even mundane ones involving seemingly unremarkable teenage girls - are worth telling. Female-centered narratives have always subconsciously appealed to me, but my initial viewing of Lady Bird was the first time I actively acknowledged this. It’s difficult to put into words just how much this film means to me. Being both a consumer and a maker of media, I believe it has helped me to hone my media preferences and, in so doing, discover my cinematic wings. 

    My first theatrical experience involved a spunky blue-haired heroine by the name of Coraline. As a seven-year-old, I had become accustomed to watching predictable princess narratives play out on screen. Most of these were centered around docile young women with tiny waists who, more often than not, were saved by prince charming. Coraline did not need to be saved by anyone. She was unapologetically sassy and outspoken, and she never apologized for taking up space. Perhaps most importantly, she was scared out of her mind half of the time, but she owned her fear. That is what ultimately made her brave. Her multifaceted nature was refreshing to see, and my brain soaked up what I had seen like a sponge. Walking out of the theater that evening, I found my perception of women in film forever changed. And so began my love affair with films like Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, all of which featured strong female characters and had brilliant female directors at the helm. Similarly, I began to consume more television shows that featured complicated young women who were unabashedly themselves, such as Stranger Things, The End of the F***ing World, and I Am Not Okay with This. For the first time in my young adult life, I began to see some semblance of myself reflected back at me.

    Complex female characters are at the center of many of my stories, in addition to many of the stories that I love. In The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola explores boys’ futile attempt to understand girls, and, by extension, the essential femininity that is perpetually beyond their grasp. The central Lisbon sisters are presented like a monolithic entity for the boys to project their private fantasies onto, conveying how their intrinsic individuality is being disregarded due to the male gaze. Personally, I love how Coppola focuses on the things that the boys overlook. These private moments between the girls serve to illustrate the chasm that exists between their true selves and the boys’ understanding of them. It was a thought-provoking piece of cinema that sparked several conversations between myself and those in my life. Stylistically, I am drawn to media that does not completely spoon-feed the viewer. Rather, it presents a series of unique shots and scenarios by which they must create a thematic tapestry of sorts for themselves.

    Tonally and thematically, my personal style has been shaped by films and television shows that make sagacious statements about life. Three of my favorites include Dead Poets Society, Forrest Gump, and The Shawshank Redemption, all of which have an undeniable rewatchability factor because of the ways in which they relay their wisdom. I want to make media that stays with people long after they abandon the screen. While captivating cinematography or an enthralling performance can certainly help to accomplish this, I believe that writing is the key ingredient. “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world,” professes Professor Keating of Dead Poets Society (Weir, 1986). I believe that a hallmark of a talented artist is the ability to say a complicated thing in a simple way. This is why I am drawn to media with universal themes yet unique narratives; it is unfamiliar in its structure yet extremely comforting in its relatability, almost as if providing a desperately needed reintroduction to oneself.

    In a similar vein, I have noticed that I have a soft spot for unconventional love stories, or, rather, stories about love. While romantic comedies have historically been condemned for being superficial or shallow, there are multiple pieces of media that disprove this notion. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind remains one of the most impactful pieces of romantic cinema I have ever seen. So much so, that I wish I could forget it and reexperience it with a fresh pair of eyes. The film’s tagline reads, “You can erase someone from your mind. Getting them out of your heart is another story” (Gondry, 2004). By playing with the concept of memory through a distinctive nonlinear narrative, visionary director Michel Gondry creates a motion picture that examines the complex nature of love. (500) Days of Summer employs the same technique, jumping forward and backward in time to pull the curtain back on a seemingly perfect relationship. Both pieces of media appeal to me because neither one trivializes or melodramatically overstates the delicate feelings they respectively explore. Rather, they proudly paint a messy picture of love and all that it entails, creating mature thinkpieces for the ages. Moreover, their bold nonlinear editing styles inspire me to push the boundaries of what I am comfortable with; rather than living a life of quiet desperation, I am determined to break out.

    The media that we consume ultimately shapes who we are. I am a mosaic of every moment I have ever borne witness to on screen. Ultimately, I have come to realize the inherent power that is associated with stories by and about women, complex female characters, and unconventional narratives about life and love. As a mediamaker of the future, I am resolved to tell thought-provoking stories with purpose. I intend to continue honing my personal style and discovering even more unique pieces of media, so that the way in which I tell these stories evolves for the better. I am forever grateful to the creatives who held up a mirror to myself through their work; they made me feel seen, and there truly is no better feeling than that. After a great deal of self-reflection, I have concluded that now it is up to me to do the same for others.

︎ Works Cited ︎

  • Coppola, S. (Director). (2000). The Virgin Suicides [Film]. American Zoetrope.
  • Darabont, F. (Director). (1994). The Shawshank Redemption [Film]. Castle Rock Entertainment.
  • Duffer, M. and Duffer, R. (Executive Producers). (2016). Stranger Things. [Television series]. Netflix.
  • Entwistle, J. (Executive Producer). (2017) The End of the F***ing World [Television series]. Netflix.
  • Entwistle, J. (Executive Producer). (2020) I Am Not Okay with This [Television series]. Netflix.
  • Gerwig, G. (Director). (2017). Lady Bird [Film]. A24.
  • Gerwig, G. (Director). (2019). Little Women [Film]. Colombia Pictures.
  • Gondry, M. (Director). (2004). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [Film]. Anonymous Content.
  • Selick, H. (Director). (2009). Coraline [Film]. Laika.
  • Wang, L. (Director). (2019). The Farewell [Film]. A24.
  • Webb, M. (Director). (2009). (500) Days of Summer [Film]. Dune Entertainment.
  • Weir, P. (Director). (1986). Dead Poets Society [Film]. Touchstone Pictures.
  • Wilde, O. (Director). (2019). Booksmart [Film]. Annapurna Pictures.
  • Zemeckis, R. (Director). (1994). Forrest Gump [Film]. The Tisch Company.