In the second in TFR’s Beginnings series, two contributors present us with their homages to high school.
Written by Seirce Mhac Conghail
The last few weeks of secondary school hold a distinctly unstable feeling. Structures which may have existed for years, for perhaps what has been up until then a lifetime, begin to crumble away. School authority dissipates fast, as uniforms, timetables, and general decorum seem to unspool in the face of imminent departure. Friendships are considered, tested, cherished. The world of adulthood seems more tangible than ever, beckoning with alternating menace and welcome.
It is this state that Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017) portrays so truthfully. We first meet our eponymous protagonist (Saoirse Ronan) at the start of her final year of school, desperate to leave her dull Californian town for a romantic collegiate life. Over the course of a year, she struggles with her family, with relationships, and with the shifting nature of her own identity. This film captures not only the vacillating highs and lows of life at eighteen, but also the great swathes of lethargy and boredom that intersperse it; we see Lady Bird skip class with her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), to chat and eat communion wafers. Life is shown at its loosening.
Lady Bird spends a great deal of time pitying herself and vowing to leave her seemingly drab life. But by the end of the film, she finds herself loving her hometown, realising how inextricable it is from her. Despite this, she is not compelled to stay, but that is what this film so beautifully conveys. Lady Bird crystallises the feeling of loving something exactly because you are leaving it, because of the rosy hue of hindsight.
Written by Seamus Conlon
Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, Palo Alto (2013), is an adaptation of James Franco’s Palo Alto Stories, a collection of vignettes depicting the lives of teenagers in the wealthy Californian suburb. Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and Fred (Nat Wolff) are maladjusted teenagers whose escapism hinges on drinking, engaging in impulsive outbursts, and discussing non-sequitur, hypothetical scenarios. Through these misadventures, Coppola portrays the balancing act between the trepidation and impulsiveness which is unique to the end of childhood. Emma Roberts plays April, whose romance with her coach, Mr. B (played by Franco himself), takes a manipulative turn. Franco’s real life conduct with underage fans magnifies the toxicity of the relationship on-screen. The film expresses a mistrust of adults triggered by the disillusioning realisation that their agendas are often self-serving.
Coppola captures the unique mixture of dispossession and insightfulness that often defines melancholic American teenage characters and makes one nostalgic for the surreal highs and lows of youth. Her understated filmmaking articulates the shapelessness of adolescent unease; something indefinable yet omnipresent in one’s high school years. Coppola’s protagonists exhibit the dreamlike vagueness at the end of adolescence that ironically heralds the clarity of young adulthood. Her confused, artful characters deal with both large and mundane challenges as they explore complex emotions and versions of themselves in different contexts.