As a recent college graduate in a serious monogamous relationship, I was incredibly wary of On Chesil Beach before stepping foot in the theater. Would the story of young love turned sour be too affecting, too real? Could I sleep that night? Saoirse read me like an open book in Lady Bird, a favorite that recently made me weep (once more) on a commercial airline, and I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for that kind of emotional beating again just a week later. Luckily for me, On Chesil Beach can’t hold a flickering candle to the emotional realities of Lady Bird or Atonement, a much more successful adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel.
Stilted, flat and infuriatingly narrow-minded, On Chesil Beach takes its supposedly heartbreaking, interior-focused source material and runs with it in the opposite direction, resulting in a film that’s as unsatisfying as its subjects’ sex life. Although Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle give everything they’ve got, wigs and all, to Dominic Cooke’s directorial debut, their performances aren’t enough to save this wilting period piece from itself.
For many of us, the world sets unrealistic expectations of being materially or academically successful at a young age, leaving behind a lingering emptiness for the rest of our lives when we fail to achieve that in our 20s, maybe even our 30s. It’s the heavy wistfulness of wishing you were more, and the resonating regret because you weren’t. So we keep on chasing an ideal just within reach, but never winning the race.
This essay is by our guest writer, Maddy Lovelace.
It is evident in the way Elio Perlman’s entire psyche is altered by mature graduate student Oliver within the summer of 1983 that there is a new funk hidden in this archetype we’ve seen before, possibly a homage to film in previous times that mirrored life and love and sensuality. Director of 2017’s Call me by your name Luca Guadagnino’s direct view of these themes can be attributed to similar work such as James Ivory’s 1987 film Maurice, revealing just how impactful an insightful reception of a cinematic journey can be upon a wandering eye. There is a direct link between the lovers in the two films, how they carry their heavy consciousness regarding love around like a summer coat. Coming of age continues to carry this magnified burden of life through the generations, consequently allowing itself to unfold through emerging artist’s diverse and retrospective lenses. In Guadagnino’s usage of Elio’s ambiguous yet direct understanding of his sexuality, he plays to this new medium that audiences of cinema have come to love because they parallel the undertones of the self that linger within the events at hand. Elio is not shocked by the way his love for Oliver takes place so hauntingly because he knew, as audiences come to feel in the film’s soft essence, Elio knows of his truth long before Oliver arrives. Oliver in this sense serves as the catalyst for Elio’s subconscious desires that have been there since the beginning yet remained dormant. Guadagnino captures the fire and flame of Coming of age cinema in his perceptive parallelism to reality. Could this be the new standard for films based on
a shifting point in life?
Being only the fifth woman to be nominated for an Academy Award as a director, Greta Gerwig’s work and accomplishments have had a monumental impact on women across all industries. But, Lady Bird‘s highest nominations offer a deeper significance for a group of women I am proud to be a part of. Like Gerwig, I am a St. Francis High School alumna, an all-girls, Catholic high school in Sacramento, California. As St. Francis Troubadours, aka Troubies, we were taught that we would one day change the world, whether it be in STEM or the arts. Seeing other girls doing such amazing things as teenagers only made me eager to see what I, and the young women I went to school with, would do as adults.
I’ve written a lot about how much Lady Bird means to me–whether it be how it made me admit how much I love my hometown of Sacramento, California or how it accurately portrayed the mother-daughter dynamic–but what I love most about the film is that it came from one of the few filmmakers I look up to, Greta Gerwig. There are many filmmakers whose work I thoroughly enjoy and respect, like Steven Spielberg or J.J. Abrams, but there are only two who I am truly inspired by and Greta Gerwig is one of them.
Read any review, tweet, or basically any form of writing about ‘Lady Bird’ and you’ll likely find a line like: “I feel like Greta Gerwig wrote ‘Lady Bird’ for me” or “It was like the pages of my teenage diary had come to life”. Greta Gerwig’s beautiful debut is a singular experience for any woman because it feels like you are reliving your senior year of high school all over again. This can all be attributed to the fact that this hasn’t been written by a man trying to score a paycheck, but a woman who has lived through this herself.