Lady Bird: The Victorian Values Review

In 2002, when Lady Bird begins, I was 16. As of yesterday, I’m precisely double that. An apt day to travel back in time, to when Nelly held positions three and four in the Billboard Top 100.

(the real tune of this movie is Justin Timberlake’s Britney revenge track Cry Me A River and you should definitely check out director Greta Gerwig’s letter to Timberlake to convince him to allow her permission to use the song solely for the term ‘full on make out‘, underlined for emphasis. This is extremely accurate btw, this is underlined make outs).

There were two pieces of feedback I took on when processing this movie. One was the review from a friend who’d already seen it – she didn’t like it, because she didn’t like the main character. The second was the couple chatting as we exited the cinema. She ‘didn’t get it’.

Let’s address the former first. I kinda knew from the trailer that the main character was going to be a bit infuriating. And I very much get the difficulty connecting with a story when you don’t like the main character – I get that feeling all the time. I cannot get in to Breaking Bad for the life of me. However. Lady Bird is a coming-of-age tale. The character needs to have somewhere to start from to grow.

And I’ve got a secret for you: the titular Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is a lot of us as teenagers. She looks almost exactly like my older sister at 17, with shittily-dyed red hair, chokers and caked-on eyeliner, still insultingly beautiful in the way of some 17-year-olds. And almost all of us were raging assholes. I suspect the problem is we’ve become used to coming-of-age movies being about teenage boys. You probably didn’t hate William in Almost Famous, even though he was also a selfish shit who damn near tortured his mother. So I suspect we’re not trained think of girls in coming-of-age movies to be anything other than objects for teenage boys to fall in love with (Hello, Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower). They have complicated inner lives too, and are battling their hormones just as much as teenage boys (that whole ‘girls mature faster’ thing? Yeah, we actually have to).

Now Lady Bird isn’t me as a teenager. For one thing, she is seriously extroverted (extroversion + hormones is a great recipe for a teenage asshole, by the way). She has what the nuns at her Catholic school call ‘a performative streak’ and god does she show it. So much yelling. But none of us can pretend that we didn’t know this person. We may all wish it gets channeled in to on-stage drama, but sometimes it just gets channeled  in to making a spectacle of yourself. It’s a damn good thing for Lady Bird that YouTube wasn’t around in 2002.  And extroversion isn’t necessarily something you grow out of. The character does mature over the course of the film, but she’s still drunkenly yelling out of windows at the end of the movie.

It’s a movie about relationships, but not really the ones you might think. Male-focused coming-of-age movies tend to be about falling in love, or lust, or whatever you want to call it. They’re not usually strictly romances, so it’s not necessarily about finding The One, just The One Who’ll Teach You Something About Yourself. Lady Bird has some excellent rite-of-passage relationships in the film – the closeted drama kid who just respects you so damn much he doesn’t really wanna touch you, the wanker in a band – but mostly, this is a movie about female relationships. The best friend. The mother. When it does touch on sex and relationships, it doesn’t punish Lady Bird for it. She can masturbate, she can lose her virginity and not fall pregnant her very first time (hello Saved! and Juno). Sure, her sexual experiences aren’t amazing pleasure-fests, but if you’re going to tell me yours were at that age, I’m gonna accuse you of boasting at best.

Cut to Lady Bird sharing a bathroom with her mother in their cramped abode, asking her when the right time to ‘do it’ is. Carefully weighing up how loaded this question is, Marion (Laurie Metcalfe) answers ‘College’. College is about right. She probably knows it’s all a little too late, but Lady Bird turns the conversation to her father, out of work and not coping well. This movie’s not just about being a teen, but about being lower-middle-class, and it’s for that reason, not her extroversion or her strong emotions or her ability to acquire more than one boyfriend, that I connected with Lady Bird. And it informs so much of her relationship with her mother. Neither her mother nor her father can give her a lot – they can give her love and good advice and try to set her up well for the future. You have to be an (early-series) Rory Gilmore angel-type to actually appreciate the sacrifices your parents make to give you a half-decent life, when you’re a teenager surrounded by kids with the shit you don’t have. This is perfectly encapsulated by Lady Bird and her best friend Julie, standing outside a fancy two-storey house, imagining their life inside it. A separate TV room. And snacks. Actually entertaining friends. Lady Bird’s shame about her neighbourhood, and her home, become a point of tension in her relationship with her Mum. And it’s not until you get a little bit older and wiser that you realise that even though all you want to do is give your kid more opportunities than you had, it still hurts like heck that the insecurity that’s part and parcel of being a teenager leads them to reject all the things you work hard to give them. That all they want to do is be somewhere else. Somewhere with the shine of glamour and intellectualism and maybe where they won’t have to shop in thrift stores. The heart of this tension is so incredibly real, and Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe bring so much to it that it made me want to call up my Mum.

If you’ve managed to catch I, Tonya, you know the flipside of this story. My forever crush Allison Janney plays Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona, tough-as-nails, and if she has a heart under there, it only shows in flashes. Whilst fighting for her opportunities, she essentially tries to scare Tonya (Margot Robbie, a revelation) in to achieving. It scars her and sets her up to see her entire life as a fight. Not a struggle. A fistfight. Marion gives Lady Bird some tough talk, but it’s done with a love that she can always recognise, will defend even in the middle of a fit of pique. She might be not believe it at the time, but it’s perfectly possible to be ‘scary and warm’, the perfect description for so many friend’s Mums that I want to go hug them all.

Part of coming-of-age is finding your people. Lady Bird handles the struggle of moving from childhood to adulthood and deciding what you want to keep perfectly. And it wasn’t really Lady Bird I connected with in this circumstance, but her childhood best friend Julie, neglected for the glamour of wealthier and cooler friends. Friends who wouldn’t touch the school play with a ten-foot pole. Because sometimes you end up being the friend who’s left behind. When our small-town grade of maybe 50 kids moved from primary school to a much bigger high school (although still very small in the grand scheme of high schools), my tall, beautiful, blonde, much more extroverted best friend of several years was swept off to the popular group, who liked me about as much as I liked them, which is to say not at all. She and I were never unfriendly, but drifting apart and being the friend who’s left behind sucks (although this is not a tale of woe…the group I eventually settled in, my people, the nerds, handed me the best friend I still have now). And this is such a real experience of being a teenage girl – shifting allegiances, shifting interests, while still feeling the strong bonds that no-one who’s never been a teenage girl can understand. No matter which position you’re in, you eventually have to decide what you fight to keep as you move in to being an adult.

I hope I’ve given Greta Gerwig enough credit for her script and directorial debut. A fitting love letter to her home town, the perfect encapsulation of a time (with a perfect soundtrack, hey there Dave Matthews), and a girl who’s allowed to be a bit of an asshole. This should win a whole bunch of Oscars, but I’m worried. That ‘I don’t get it’ reaction. Was it just the reaction of someone who needs their movies wrapped in a neat bow, lessons learned, no room for growth left in an 18-year-old character? Or do you have to have lived through it, to have your heart crash in to this film?

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‘Hello, Academy? I’m nailing it over here. Pay attention’

Katie’s Favourite (Melbourne) Things 2017 – Part 1

I’m sure my mother would refer to this as ‘A Guide To Gently Stalking Katie’. To which I would say ‘Mum, my entire life is online, they can just DM me if they want to know what movie I’m seeing when’.

I’ve just ticked over my first full year of living in Melbourne. I’m not going to claim I know it like an old-timer, and I will honestly admit there are swathes of the city and surrounds that I’ve only looked at with mild curiosity on the public transport map. I also live in the northern suburbs, so this will be somewhat north-focused, but you should probably also know that I fully subscribe to the northside/southside war and think of the entire south-east as Rich People Trashville with the occasional nice historical home (hello Como House, you have a very nice garden). Toorak makes me feel poor and St Kilda makes me uncomfortable with its fake ocean.

This is a bit city guide, a bit Year That Was, and hopefully interesting to someone. It’s time for….Katie’s Favourite Things (Part One).
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Cultural Things

The Wheeler Centre
A friend put me on to this one, and let’s be real, I am entirely trying to be your friend who puts you on to things with this post.
For a decent chunk of this year I was job-searching, and therefore incredibly keen to find free things to do that got me out of the house. Going for walks is fun and all, but it doesn’t particularly engage the brain. That’s where The Wheeler Centre, located in a wing of the beautiful State Library, comes in. They do some paid events, but the majority of their talks are free. For at least two ‘seasons’, I hopped on the site when the calendar was launched and booked a whole bunch of sessions, giving me regular things to look forward to. These included talks about women on social media, the changing nature of family, the real lives of Arab women, talks on podcasts, criticism, and the wellness industry. The Wheeler Centre is a forum to talk about ideas, with every session tending to have a carefully-chosen panel and opportunities for audience Q&A.
I know why I find the events so appealing. A former Arts student, I still enjoy the feeling of being engaged with the world of ideas and debate. I’ve also found a healthy selection of talks with a feminist slant, particularly Jane Gilmore’s round up of 2017’s representation of women in media. But you’ll find a pretty mixed crowd at the events. I’ve found that there’s a lot of people of retirement age who will come along not knowing much about the subject, I suspect because it comes with the best price tag of all for an interesting night out.
One of my favourite series at The Wheeler Centre this year was The Longform Society, a sort of book club for longreads. I was absolutely fascinated by our readings on robots, with a particular focus on ethics, and could have discussed them all night. Humanities nerds are for life, y’all.
If this all sounds pretty appealing to you but you’re not from Melbourne, they do quite a bit of live-streaming, as well as uploading audio and visual recording afterwards.

Honourable mention: The University of Melbourne hosts a huge amount of free public lectures on a dizzying amount of topics. I joined their mailing list after attending a Melbourne Knowledge Week event with Katherine Maher from Wikipedia, however I’ve found that the majority of evening talks start at 6pm, which is when I finish work.

Bump and Grindercise
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This is the only fitness class or endeavour I have ever been able to stick to. I did terribly at Zumba. I was okay at home workouts, but as soon as I took a break I struggled to get back in to it. But for Bump and Grindercise, I will drag myself out of bed every Sunday, because it’s fun. I will even go when I’m sick, mostly because there’s no-one at home to tell me I shouldn’t (note to self, extremely bad for recovery).
One of the greatest challenges is describing what Bump and Grindercise actually is. L’amour, the genius behind Bump, posted this clip from one of the routines, which probably helps a bit. Meg Crawford wrote about the classes for Time Out. But it mostly comes down to wiggling, jiggling, and giggling. While also getting the cardio workout from hell, and thighs so sore you can barely sit for days. L’amour calls it a dance exercise class, which pretty much sums up the vintage-inspired burlesque moves you’ll be doing between the twerking, squats and lunges. There’s a hefty bit of 90s to the soundtrack (think Spice Girls, Shaggy and Ginuwine) as well as tunes from the 50s and 60s. It’s a serious workout in a warm and silly environment. If you can’t make fun of yourself, you’re gonna have a seriously weird time grinding in a circle like in the clip I linked to. But everyone brings their best self to class, and everyone feels like their best self in class too. It’s a body-positive environment, something L’Amour embodies, and that’s what makes girls feel comfortable to dance around in lingerie. We don’t all know each other, there’s drop-ins every week, but it is an established safe space, where bullshittery will not be tolerated and everyone tries to uplift each other. Also celebrations are had with titty cupcakes.
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I’d long followed Bump and Grindercise through social media, and was so excited to start these classes when I moved down. I’m happy to say they completely surpassed my expectations.
Bonus fact: In addition to Bump and Grindercise, L’amour will be launching barre classes called Bump and Barrecise next year. If that’s more your style, I cannot give high enough marks for L’amour as a kind, patient, and supportive teacher, even if she is way bendy-er than any of us will ever be.

Palace Cinemas
This chain is not Melbourne-only, but every venue is unique. My local is Palace Westgarth, which is housed in a historical building and has five cinemas, as well as an outdoor screen in the courtyard, a new addition I haven’t had an opportunity to enjoy yet. I love when I go to see blockbuster films and wind up in the largest auditorium, the beautiful art deco style Cinema One.
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Palace plays the latest releases and indies, and their distribution arm allows them to hold numerous international film festivals during the year. It tends to make for an interesting lineup.
Whilst I’m incredibly fortunate to receive discount Palace tickets through my workplace’s employee rewards program, I’d also made the decision to join the Palace Movie Club long before I started there. Club membership is $19.50 a year here in Melbourne, and given members save over $5 on standard ticket prices, you only need to go to the movies 4 times in a year to make back your membership costs (I don’t know about you, but I go to the movies a lot more than that). Plus you get discounts here and there, access to advance screenings and some deals as part of the festivals. Even though I get cheaper-than-membership tickets now, I have maintained my membership for the perks. Also, I can’t pre-book my cheap tickets, so the membership comes in handy if you want to say, buy tickets with the best seats for opening day of The Last Jedi.
They turned out to be not so great tickets when the man and his son next to me talked the whole way through the movie, but that’s not Palace’s fault. In general, I find that there’s less teenagers than at a cinema in a shopping centre e.g the homeland of the Hoyts and Greater Union, which means I don’t feel like such a sore thumb when I indulge my number one love of going to the movies on my own.
Their snacks are also delicious, although I don’t believe that olive oil popcorn is that much better for you, and they will do a ‘feature-length’ pour of wine without the Gold Class prices. Bonus fact: The Palace Kino, which is in the CBD, has an amazing Tightarse Monday deal of $8.50 tickets.

Honourable mention: The Lido in Hawthorn. Similar variety of  blockbusters, indies and art-house. A modern venue, with a rooftop screen and no oddly-shaped cinemas, and as a bonus it isn’t part of a chain. They also do jazz and comedy nights. Delicious, substantial snacks and really decent variety of boozy drinks. I had a membership this year and at a members’ preview screening for Battle of the Sexes they were handing out Pimms Cup cocktails. However, I generally had a hard time booking member tickets on the site (usually resorting to the phone – eww, people) and it’s just a bit far from my house when there’s a great cinema down High St.  But overall a fantastic option for any Easterly types.

Event Things

Girls on Film Festival
Just a really chill celebration of all things lady in cinema, held at Brunswick Town Hall. This year was their third year, and I made it to a couple of events – a Spice World screening, and Girl Germs, an event with bands, video games, nail painting and collage making. The whole event has a welcoming vibe and a DIY spirit, and the movie lineup was absolutely killer, including Persepolis, The Sapphires, and The Craft as well as local and international indies. I had plenty of regrets about not being able to make it to more movies, and I think next year I need to get in earlier and support their crowdfunding efforts!
Also: Spice World does not currently have the camp classic status it deserves. If you haven’t revisited it, can I highly recommend it? You may not be able to recreate the experience of a room full of women who were probably Spice Girls ride-or-dies first time around, but I’m fairly certain it’ll still be magical.
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Series Mania at ACMI
I tend to wonder if people think of ACMI as somewhere to actually go and watch features, rather than just poking their nose in the exhibitions downstairs (although that’s a perfectly worthy journey, particularly when they had CodeBreakers: Women in Games on this year). ACMI actually plays hosts to a lot of interesting events – including the rather epic journey I went on this year watching all eight hours of ESPN’s amazing OJ: Made in America documentary in the big cinema there as part of the Australian International Documentary Conference.
Like the OJ event, Series Mania was free, and in this case was a four-day extravaganza of all things telly. This is an international concept that was started in Paris, so it was awesome to see a varied program brought Melbourne, with hefty local flavour. Although I didn’t attend, understandably the event in conversation with Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, was incredibly popular. I followed my interests and attended two events. The first was a screening of the first episode of The White Princess, which from memory was premiering on Stan the following weekend, followed by a Q&A with the divine Essie Davis, who also stars in one of my favourite Australian series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. In addition, several weeks before the premiere on ABC, I attended a screening of the first two episodes of Get Krackin’, the new comedy show from the Kates of The Katering Show. It’s unusual to get to watch comedy television in a large audience unless you’re at a recording, so it was fun to have that experience. If you want to recreate the experience at home, invite a bunch of mates over and fire up Get Krackin’ on iView. Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan were there for a Q&A afterwards, and proved just as relatable af as I always imagined them. Be my friend, Kates.
I’m really pleased to read that Series Mania will be back next year, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the program!
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PAXAus/Melbourne International Games Week
Yeah, yeah. Stay in your lane, Katie. You don’t know shit about MIGW. You only went to PAXAus. But golly, do I follow a lot of attendees on Twitter. I see the tweets from GCAP panels, people celebrating and receiving recognition at the Australian Game Development Awards, and the same troopers immediately following it up with that hustle life exhibiting at PAX Australia. It’s not the only event focused on games and tech in Melbourne during the year, but it brings together a bunch of local, national and international talent to straight up fuck themselves up on loving games. We’re incredibly lucky that the Victorian Government, through Creative Victoria, supports the industry and enables games to be a key part of the amazing cultural scene in Melbourne that we love to boast about.

And we do love boasting about it. I’ve just written a 2,000 word post just about culture and events. Which means the very best part of living in Melbourne – the food, duh – will have to wait til part 2.