On Love and Attention

I just watched Greta Gerwig's new film 'Ladybird' which gracefully took me into an introspective headspace along with the story's themes and characters. The middle American coming-of-age story is familiar, but this one feels like the one that got it right.

There was one line of dialogue that stuck with me as I exited the theater: when Ladybird/Christine is chatting with her Catholic nun principal, the latter presupposes that love and attention are essentially the same thing. Thinking back on it, this felt like one of 'Ladybird's' biggest motifs. Amidst the setting's stiff suburban American monoculture,  the characters we are led to root for are the ones who are simultaneously remain attentive to themselves, others, and their surroundings despite the easy inclination to become passive, despondent, blank, and purposeless. The film's closest thing to an antagonist - a selfish emotionally stunted rich boy who coherses Ladybird into taking her virginity - is more concerned with nihilism and contrarian opinions than paying attention to anything in his own life; never able to look his sorta-girlfriend Ladybird in the eye. We even catch a glimpse of his father - who looks to be completely laid out on tranquilizer pills; unconscious, unaware, and possibly physically ill - providing a potential forecast of his son's future, while Gerwig plants her flag in the ground regarding what kind of life philosophies she values.

"Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento," is the opening quote, supplied by OG snarkstress/literary god Joan Didion. This seemingly kicks off a film that's trying to tell us how shitty suburban life is. Thankfully, the film takes a mature leap away from easily channeling an exhausted conceit and instead gives us something new and denser to chew on. Most interestingly, in that aforementioned scene between the nun and Ladybird, the nun mentions how its clear from LB's college essay that she really loves her hometown of Sacramento. This comes as a surprise to the rebellious, hair-dyed, angsty East Coast wannabe much in the same way that we as the audience are starting to learn that this isn't just another suburban-commentary flick. When she ultimately leaves Sack-town for New York City, she felt a tremendous homesickness that is associated with the love she felt from her parents - most particularly her mother with whom she has wrestled with across emotional peaks and valleys for most of the film's duration - all back in that crappy town she put up with for 18+ years of her life. Realizations of similarities and differences between her and her mother sparked a newfound maturity that elevates her further than her surroundings, but realizing upon being in a new unfamiliar place that her surroundings mirror what she loves the most. Therein lies Ladybird's poetic, wildly resonant (at least, personally for me) catharsis.

JH