Oscar Baits 2018
Some Ramblings - Lady Bird by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Quirkiness is a highwire act without a safety net. One single misstep, the whole enterprise comes crashing down in a thud of pretentiousness. There is no identifying with quirkiness, there is no relatability there. Either one is amused by it or completely turned off by it, without any middle ground. Quirkiness is a single tone monologue, and the character entrusted with that trait pushes ahead without paying any heed to the surroundings. And that is why it is so tough to pull it off, because that amount of egotistical self-indulgence can easily come off as a self-absorbed narcissism, which is never a good trait to have for a lead character. Quirky characters, by their very nature, have to talk a lot, almost always about themselves. At every moment, it should be their point of view being presented to (pushed into) the world and any incongruence there with the settings around sets up for the necessary conflict. Quirkiness comes in three kinds, broadly speaking.

First is the "Clueless" mould, a very witty satire about the emptiness of the rich valley girl life in sunny California. In here, the lead character is pretty self-absorbed too (it is almost a given), and amusingly, so is everyone around her in her high school as their conversations constantly revolve around shopping, dating and grooming. But the vacuousness of their lives is the point there, as they stumble through their lives bumping from one meaningless "disaster" (fashion emergencies) to another (dates from hell). Yet, the writing is so smart that even this level of narcissism appears not just tolerable, but downright funny and amusing ("You know, If I ever saw you do anything that wasn't ninety percent selfish, I'd die of shock").

Second is the "Juno" kind. A precocious teenager trudges along in life with all the weight of the world on her shoulders, not to mention, an accidental pregnancy that she has to deal with on top of everything. Even without any quirks, just the premise of a teenager getting accidentally "knocked up" and then wanting to keep the baby itself is ripe enough concept for hormones and emotions to have a field day. Add the existing precociousness on top of it, and the result is a passive aggressive rage against the world and the situations. Even here, it is the misfitting that the character has to sell, and (with the help of some excellent writing) like a seasoned stand-up comedian she makes her problems the audience's problems, which is the highmark that any quirky character can aspire to.

Oscar Baits 2018:

Third is an even more intelligent variety, the "Mean Girls" blend. A scathing satire on the high school life, where the need to be loved, recognized and embraced by the cliques of their choice makes characters go to extremes and revel in their own revulsions. Of all the three, this kind is the toughest of all, because of the all pervasive cruelty that all the characters indulge in, one in the name of justice and others as pure survival instinct. Yet the protagonist rises above all, even while slinging and roiling in muck all the while, by virtue of her quirkness of being the lone good sheep among a pack of wolves. "Mean girls", in the able of hands of Tina Fey, turns the concept of the quirky lead character on its head by making her the one eyed in the country of the blind, making her both a party to the insanity while also the conscience and the sole voice of reason. There are great many other quirky characters over a period of all these years in the movie history, some who danced too close to the flame, and some who went way past the cliff and fell to their doom.

'Lady Bird' checks off all the major strokes requisite for quirky characters - loquacious, moody, rebel and misfit. In fact, for a majority of the movie the character tries too hard to stand apart, to not blend in, to be counter culture and constantly be at odds with the status quo. The world of Lady Bird is surrounded with the convenient kind of enablers, the mom-from-hell and dad-from-heaven, the goth brother (and his even goth-er girlfriend), the heart of gold friend who is battling her own issues, the obligatory theater group at school, the prom and the college admission process. The setup is more than perfect, in fact it appears too convenient. But before it starts falling into its own trap of self-indulgence, a truly magical thing happens in the way of the relationship the protagonist (teenager) has with her mother, which not only rescues the movie but also pulls it up into the echelons of endearment. What is special about the interaction that 'Lady Bird' has with her mother is how real and natural it feels, despite all the quirks and ticks. Beneath the daily grind of the usual hostility that lies between those like sexes built upon years of nature and nurture, the hormone explosion (puberty going head on with menopause), and the constant vying for attention of the man of the house, there is that unequivocal truth that despite the polar opposites stands, stances and positions the mother and daughter take on EVERY single issue, these two characters are basically the same, merely separated in time. And just as in physics, like poles always repel. The constant bickering about the penny pinching and belt tigheting ways of the mother with the free spirited and carefree attitude of the daughter reads like the transcipt of the conversations within every middle class household in middle America (or middle anywhere). There is a beautiful scene where the mother and daughter go to clothes shopping for the upcoming prom and as the daughter tries out an array of 'interesting' choices, the mother has her passive-aggression in full display, where all her remarks about the clothes and prices have nothing do in fact with either clothes or prices, but her, the daughter, life and her choices, in general. Very observational moment that. 'Lady Bird' outside of her home may appear made up, but while at home, this is a real daughter and this is a real mother and their travails all rooted in reality, without the slightest hint of exaggeration. And all this is a comedy to boot. 'Lady Bird' not just finishes the highwire act with some panache, but it does so with a blindfold, and by the end of the movie, purely on the mother-daughter relationship alone, 'Lady Bird' earns her stripes in quirkiness.

[A true account of a conversation between doting mother and a teenager daughter conversation as witnessed]

Mom: Got you some nice clothes for the start of your new year at school

Daughter: Where did you get them at?

M: From the outlet

D: I meant, the store?

M: Oh! Gap!

D: [screams] Mom.....

M: [surprised] What!

D: [in anguish] Don't you know all those clothes are made by poor kids in Vietnam who don't even get paid proper wages. Don't you follow the news?

M: [exasperated, as though to say, 'here it comes'] Well, someone has to buy those clothes, otherwise they don't even get paid even those low wages

D: [bewildered] How can you justify such a blatant child exploitation??! What if it was me there, would you still buy these made out of my sweat and blood???

M: You are not going to change the capitalistic practices by simply boycotting a few stores

D: This is not a boycott Mom! God! you are so dense! this is taking a stand!

M: You know almost all the brands make their clothes in low wage countries because that's how they turn a neat profit. There are at least surviving on those meager incomes, and if not for these brands, they wouldn't even have that!!

D: [now crying] And you don't care for those children as long as you look good???

M: [now shouting] What's the matter with you? Gap is not going to shut down because you look down upon their labor policies. I got these as a nice suprise for you and now you are ruining the moment.

D: [full blown meltdown] I don't care about the clothes, in fact I hate these clothes

M: [T minus one before the volcano bursts] Good, then don't wear them [throws the bags in a huff and storms out of the room]

The daughter follows suit.

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