The Unicorn Scale: Ladybird

2/22/2018

Welcome back, loyal Unicorn readers! I hope y’all are enjoying this Oscar themed month as much as I am. It’s good to reflect on films that have bi themes that are causing a stir on the red carpet, both now and in the recent past.

So what have I cooked up for you this time? Well, grab your puka-shell necklace and your Unicorn Lucky Charms because it’s time to take on one of this year’s Oscar forerunners, Ladybird.

Ladybird is a coming-of-age film, set in 2002 Sacramento, where the eponymous senior (Saiorse Ronan) spends one last year being a thoroughly teenaged teenager – falling in and out of love, changing social groups, pining for colleges on the East Coast “where the culture is.” But more than anything, this is a love story between a mother (Laurie Metcalf) and a daughter with strong personalities, and all the tenderness, frustration, and humanity that that particular relationship can draw out in all of us.

WARNING: From here on out, my review of this critical darling will contain plot spoilers. And if you need a refresher on what the ol’ Scale is all about, you can peep this here.

WHAT I LIKED:

For all of my snark in the introduction, I absolutely adored this movie. It plays like a memory. I watched it twice I loved it so much. When I showed it to a dear friend of mine, halfway through she jingled her bangle bracelets and declared “This movie is made of hearts!” And at the end of the following tough scene, I replied: “And it breaks every one of them.”

It’s hard for me to be objective about this film. As an actor and a screenwriter, I’m in love with the masterful dialogue and nuanced performances. And as a novelist, I’m jealous because I just wrote my own coming-of-age story that takes place very close to this timeline (1999) – so much so that director Gerwig and I both used “Crash Into Me” as a crucial song for the storytelling. (Yes, I’ve now rewritten that scene – grumble, grumble.) But really, there’s a good reason this flick earned 100% on Rotten Tomatoes – it’s an incredible, heartfelt movie.

But what I want to focus on is a layer I didn’t absorb until my second viewing: Danny’s story (played by Lucas Hedges).

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

Danny is very clearly bi. He’s attracted to Ladybird, he is the one who pulls her in closer for the dance, he initiates the kiss. He even says he loves her when he doesn’t have to. Yes, he kisses another boy and is clearly confused about that. But then Ladybird puts words to it – calling him gay. Ultimately she comforts him during his breakdown, but the option of him identifying as bi is never addressed either by the script or anything. And this was 2002 – this was around the same time when I came out in a small town. The word “bi” wasn’t unheard of. I’m sure someone could argue because Danny’s Catholic or something, but I don’t have the patience for it after the story works so hard to establish his attraction to Ladybird.

Ugh, it bothered me, readers. It was the only part of the film that felt lazy – both in build-up and in Ladybird thinking herself so cultured and yet having this huge blind spot.

Saoirse Ronan and Lucas Hedges, “Lady Bird” from EPK.tv

THE RATING:

All that said, Danny’s arc is my sole quibble with the whole movie – which is really saying something, because my creative friends and I picked it apart for an hour afterwards to examine why we loved it and search for chinks in the armor.

It’s an exquisite film in almost every way and is something I think most teenagers would relate to and enjoy. But since I’m focusing on bi representation, and only because of that reason, I’m giving it a middling review. Everyone should still see it, though. And then call their mother.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.