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'Columbus' and 'Lady Bird' Offer Some of the Most Realistic Portrayals of the Teen Experience in the Current Era

Two contrasting settings can still provide the upmost authenticity in their character portrayals.

Shot with almost overwhelming care and delicacy video essayist Kogonada makes a welcome film debut with his soft-spoken ode to those interested in the balance of architecture amidst the messiness of life—Columbus. The eponymous setting provides the perfect place for capturing a sense of cinema with its unusual, modernist buildings that the film’s lead Casey is so invested in and who tries to interest the harried Jin visiting on behalf of his unwell yet estranged father. We as an audience are positioned as an eavesdropper to the pair’s striking conversations that prove to be so easing and blissful in their simplicity and naturalism as they discuss setbacks, ambitions and interests. 

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, on the other hand, thrives on its youthful, sparky yet completely grounded and wholly realistic interchanges with incredibly snappy editing that captures the many mixed emotions and frustrations of its eponymous protagonist whose narrative focuses on her various relationships with those around her as she yearns to be away from Sacramento to the worry of her Mother. Through her effervescence Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson may seem far different than the more soulful Casey whose role with her mother is the reverse to Christine as she wishes to stay home out of concern for her and she questions why she would want to be anywhere other than her comforting home where everything she knows and adores is. Columbus foregrounds this existentialism in a contemplative atmosphere through its mise-en-scene, character expression and of course its infamous location similarly to Lady Bird albeit with a much quieter atmosphere as both tackle with humanity and realism, even in their contrasting presentations of their themes, the struggle of finding a new pathway whilst keeping the relationships you have with the ones you love as you come of age.

Much of the stylistically differences between the films stems from the isolation Casey has as a 19-year-old who did not unlike her friends go into higher education and although Lady Bird is constantly overwhelmed by the amount of people surrounding her, and what they have in comparison to the financial instability her family is living in, both seek some form of intimacy. Columbus has been compared to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation in that it offers a look at cross-generational connection but where the location in Coppola’s film heightens the alienation felt by her characters, Columbus as a setting with its striking backdrops beckons for Casey to stay but as she speaks with Jin their scenes are filmed in such a way that the two get closer as the buildings become out of focus. The balance in Kogonada’s shot composition translates in their relationship as both gain some way of progressing in their lives as a result of their platonic relationship. Lady Bird captures the desperation for physical validation as Christine’s priority to seek out government conspiracy believer Kyle after the shocking revelation about her previous boyfriend leads to conflict with some of the closest people in her life—especially her mother and best friend Julie. Friendships between female teenagers have often been presented in a satirical manner with a heavy focus on materialism and social hierarchy but Christine and Julie’s friendship is one of the most authentic onscreen portrayals of young female friendship and comes with such naturalism between young performers Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein and so it frustrates us that Christine is willing to desert her in order to feel like she could a wealthy elite. Much of the conflict within Lady Bird comes with Christine’s struggle to deal with her economic situation when she is surrounded by much wealthier students along with her own want to be in a “city of culture” when she will leave for college. Christine’s eventual appreciation of what and who is around her is not thematically dissimilar to Casey’s final acceptance and appreciation of the outside of her hometown as both complete their narratives with a sense of self-assuredness and repaired relationships to defined and honest supporting characters.     

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'Columbus' and 'Lady Bird' Offer Some of the Most Realistic Portrayals of the Teen Experience in the Current Era
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