mother and child: an exploration of relationships on filmGreta Gerwig's award-winning masterpiece Lady Bird (2017) has furthered its place in the film industry through it's recent Golden Globe win. It's a classic coming of age tale that tugs on a familiar character: a teenager who struggles with finding her sexuality, place in society, and aspirations for the future, all while exploiting the many relationships she curates and continues to develop throughout her final year of high school. While many coming of age films touch on these relationships, there's something about Gerwig's film that portrays authentic relationships between people, especially mother and daughter.
Some films tend to romanticize relationships between mother and child, where the mother never has any more screen time than a few supporting lines that are either comforting or judgmental, bringing the parental character to nothing but background support. There's no depth whatsoever and there's way in seeing how these characteristics shape the main character into who they are. Of course the focus of a coming of age film is supposed to center around a single character, a teen or a young adult that is complex and well-developed, but these characteristics never seem to extend towards supporting characters, especially parental figures. Thus, there is never any further development on these characters which sometimes result in little screen time.
The importance of developing parental characters seems bland; it seems as films forget that the influence (or lack thereof) parents and/or parental figures are what shape a character. Although coming of age films tend to focus on how these youths feel misunderstood by everyone around them, some of these films never take the time to explore the misunderstanding from the eyes of anyone else other than the main character, which can sometimes underwhelm the emotion of a film to make it feel one-sided and, dare I say it-- whiney.
Haley Lu Richardson as Casey, Columbus (2017)
For example, indie film Columbus (2017) exploits the difficulty between teen Casey (played by Haley Lu Richardson) and her mother, who is a recovering addict. Thus, Casey takes care of her mother and herself. We see the mistrust and communication from Casey's side, but the film never explores the relationship from her mother's side; we don't outwardly see her struggle with overcoming addiction or why she constantly lies to Casey. It's one-sided, and we get enough information to understand Casey's frustration, but we only experience it from her perspective. We see the effects that her mother's behavior has on her as a character, but we are left with the mystery of why her mother acts the way she does, and maybe that's a part of the film, but it seems too integral to Casey's character to be left out of the story.
Lady Bird seems to be an almost-perfect coming of age story. Not only does it explore Christine's struggle to understand herself and the world, but how this affects the people around her as well. Her relationship with her best friend and her mother are ultimately tested, and the importance of these characters isn't undermined; they get the screen time they deserve and both characters are well-thought out and multifaceted, just like Christine. We get to see how their relationships are affected and tested from both perspectives, which gives the viewer insight and a better chance to emotionally connect with the content they're watching. The scenes with her mother show the authenticity between mother and daughter, a relationship that many know has its ups and downs. Her mother's character isn't romanticized to be someone who never fights her kid or someone who is just there for hugs; she's human too, and they show the imperfections of such a integral relationship.
Saoirse Ronan as Christine, Lady Bird (2017)
Another film that exploits relationships between mother and child is Xavier Dolan's Mommy (2014).
This post isn't to undermine performances or films that can be categorized as coming of age tales, but to analyze and understand how parental characters are much more integral to the overarching story and main character than they are portrayed. It's interesting to see how these supporting characters fit into the story, and it's disappointing to see when they are written down to be a part of the background. These characters deserve more recognition, and quite frankly, they deserve to be just as complex as the troubled teen themselves.
// this post is still being edited //