Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird vs. Rocky – Or: The Importance of the Female Perspective

photo: Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Greta Gerwig

Last night my partner and I were looking for a film to watch. I wanted to watch Greta Gerwig’s new film ‘Little Women’ after reading and hearing so much praise about it. I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever since I saw her first solo directorial adventure ‘Ladybird’. However, ‘Little Women’s trailer is, admittedly, very female driven. That’s the reason why I wanted to watch it. It was the same reason why my boyfriend wasn’t extremely keen to watch it, at least not yesterday.

We were looking for an alternative. I’d wanted to watch ‘Rocky’ for quite a while – embarrassingly as filmmaker I have to admit, I had not seen it – I offered we watch that instead.

First things first. Who is Greta Gerwig? And what is ‘Lady Bird’ about? (In case you haven’t seen the film.)

I first was introduced to Gerwig when I watched ‘Frances Ha’ during the Berlinale in 2013. I loved the film! Gerwig stars in the lead as Frances, a New York woman (who doesn’t really have an apartment) who apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer) and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as the possibility of realising them dwindles.

Greta Gerwig

Gerwig, born in 1983, had collaborated with Noah Baumbach, her partner and the director of ‘Frances Ha’ on several projects, and co-directed ‘Nights and Weekends’ before she wrote and directed her solo directorial debut: The coming-of-age comedy-drama ‘Lady Bird’ grossed over $78 million worldwide against its $10 million budget. According to the review-aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it was given 196 positive reviews in a row, making it the record-holder for the most “fresh” reviews, until the first “rotten” one arrived in December 2017.

Gerwig described the film in the Late Show: “Lady bird is about a girl named Christine McPherson who makes everybody call her Lady Bird and it takes place over the senior year in high school. It’s kinda a love story between her and her mom. How hard it is to say good bye, and how one person is coming of age and another person is letting go. It’s really funny but it will also make you cry and call your mom.”

Ask about her intentions, why Gerwig was making ‘Lady Bird’, which is gravitating around the time, when you start to figure out who you are, who you want to be and which path you want to choose, she answers: “I just don’t feel like I’ve seen very many movies about 17-year-old girls where the question is not, ‘Will she find the right guy’ or ‘Will he find her?’ The question should be: ‘Is she going to occupy her personhood?’ Because I think we’re very unused to seeing female characters, particularly young female characters, as people.”

I couldn’t agree more. During the film I was laughing, crying and most of all, I was very deeply touched and being thrown back into my teenage years, remembering the struggles and good times I had with my mother. I remember saying to my partner, that this was the first time I actually saw a film portraying my teenage years.

And how does Rocky fit into the equation?

Well, last night we settled on ‘Rocky’ instead of ‘Little Women’, a film my boyfriend had seen various times in his teenage years, contributing to him becoming a man.

Watching the film I can see how it got the awards and recognition it received. Rocky was nominated for ten Oscars and won three, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing. The underdog boxer who refuses to back down. Quoting Rocky Balboa: “Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!”

The film was released in 1976. It provided a male role model to look up to for the teenagers of the 70s and 80s. Someone to aspire to be. And when it comes to a gender specific perspective, the way Rocky gets the girl is by bluntly asking her again and again, not taking no for an answer, until she says yes. The character of Adrian, his later girlfriend, obviously doesn’t have her own opinion. At least that’s how I perceived it. When she said no, she just played being coy. Right. (My jaw dropped upon hearing some of their mind boggling conversations.)

Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa)

I’d say pretty tough world for the girl in ‘Rocky’.

But then, that’s not what the film is really about, is it.

My conclusion

I’m so, so glad that today, more than 40 years after the release of ‘Rocky,’ films are emerging giving us a female perspective and female role models which aren’t all about ‘How to get married.’ Films, which address what young girls and women want in life.

As for recommendations which one to watch? Watch them both! Best with your partner and then discuss the different perspectives and how you relate to Rocky Balboa or Lady Bird McPherson. Or to both, as both are in the process of finding themselves, and to live up to their own potential.

What will I watch next? ‘Little Women.’ With my partner.


Greta Gerwig On ‘Lady Bird,’ Her Directorial Debut, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert 17th Nov 2017 [last viewed 10th of June 2020]

Zuckerman, Esther. 2017. Rolling Stone. How Greta Gerwig Turned the Personal ‘Lady Bird’ Into a Perfect Movie 6th of November 2017 [last viewed 10th of June 2020]

Western, Dan. Wealthy Gorilla. 35 Most Inspirational Rocky Balboa Quotes & Speeches [last viewed 10th of June 2020]

‘Frances Ha’ on IMDB [last viewed 10th of June 2020]

Greta Gerwig at Wikipedia [last viewed 10th of June 2020]

‘Rocky’ at Wikipedia [last viewed 10th of June 2020]

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