Who doesn’t love that scene in Lady Bird (Gerwig, 2017) when she throws herself out of the car to make a point to her obstinately loving mother about wanting to go to a college far away? There’s something in the mother-daughter relationship that powerfully encapsulates the frustration of not making oneself understood. Yet it’s all too rare to find a popular film that explores this frustration without demonizing that mother figure. This is because questions of voice and being heard are closely intertwined with the changing fortunes of feminism and postfeminism. Until lately, popular cinema has tended to align the daughter with a good, fun-loving postfeminism and the mother with a bad, prickly feminism (Rowe Karlyn, 2011). Think of witty Juno and the silent, absent mother who sends her cactuses. In Lady Bird, by contrast, our sympathies are divided between mother and daughter by comic self-consciousness. Lady Bird’s action is hilariously melodramatic, not tragic, and our horrified laughter perhaps puts us partly on the side of her exasperated mother.
Since 2017 #Metoo has given vent to a social media explosion of rage, taking shape as a chorus of hitherto silenced female voices. As new forms of popular feminism emerge, how will cinema revisit themes of generational difference, feminism and voice? The more recent Lady Bird seems to represent a shift, in which the voices of mothers and daughters no longer re-present stages of feminism and postfeminism in conflict, but engage in much more nuanced and emotionally complex dialogues, informed, on both sides, by various shades of feminism itself.