Ladybird, Ladybird (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★
After Maggie (Crissy Rock) sings a song at a karaoke bar, Jorge (Vladimir Vega), impressed by her performance, approaches and invites her for a drink. Though she is with friends, she accepts and the two sit in a quieter corner to talk. Within minutes, Maggie’s sadness, something that Jorge has detected, unspools: she tells the stranger before her that her four children have been taken away by Social Services. Very soon a court hearing will determine if Maggie could keep them or if the kids must be displaced.
Written by Rona Munro and directed by Ken Loach, “Ladybird, Ladybird” is an enthralling and educational exploration of a woman’s relationship with a social system. Whenever Social Services get involved and kids are taken away, it is easy to jump to conclusions and blame the parents. And why not? There is a pattern and there are many irresponsible parents out there who are not fit to raise a child. And yet more challenging is taking a step back and considering all the facts—information that we do not have when there is a big scene in our neighborhood. This film paints an entire history and makes sure that we have the relevant facts. Suddenly, the demarcation between right and wrong is out of focus.
The picture benefits greatly from Rock’s performance. Her capacity to jump between being personable and delivering explosive fits of rage, like turning on a light switch, without hitting a false note is scary and impressive. The way she plays Maggie, there is no doubt that her character is an angry person but there is also a lot of pain and hurt behind the screaming and hollering. Despite her volatile nature, we believe that she loves her children.
Maggie is likely a woman we see every time take a trip to the supermarket. You know, the one with so many kids but not enough hands to keep them from going all over the place. I’ve given a Maggie a dirty look and judged. Why bring your kids to the store when you can’t control them, right? This film inspired me to think twice. Great films makes us look within by placing us in someone else’s shoes and encourages us to be more sympathetic.
The director maintains control of the camera even if a scuffle turns into a tornado. At least these days, the inclination is to shake as to create the illusion of reality, to be “in the middle of the action.” Here, it is unnecessary to move the camera like so. The struggle occurs only after we have an understanding of the main players, what is at stake, and what it implies about the future. We yearn for an alternative but it is difficult to break the cycle.
In the film, there is a poem told orally, in Spanish, about a candle that lights other candles that have died out. The relationship between Maggie and Jorge can be viewed this way. What they share is good but, like real relationships, it requires a lot of work. Sometimes it burns. There is no villain here: not Maggie, not the Social Services, not even the nosy and racist neighbor. There is only our prejudice and how sometimes we might surprise even ourselves when reality is wrinkled and upside down.