'Lady Bird’s Success Is Proof Men Can & Do Identify With Female Characters, Too

by Rachel Simon
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When Beanie Feldstein was growing up, she, like countless other pre-teens coming of age in the late '90s-early '00s era, became obsessed with Harry Potter. She read all the books and watched all the movies, following the boy wizard's journey through potions classes, Quidditch matches, and magic-enhanced puberty. But it's not like she had much of a choice; although Feldstein (and the internet) is fully aware that Hermione is the true star of the series, it's Harry who's the titular hero, the protagonist we're all asked to relate to and root for time and time again. And while, at 12 or 13, she may not have totally understood the reasons why, Feldstein at 24 is a different story — she knows why, and she thinks it's total bullsh*t.

"Girls are subliminally asked to relate to boy movies and stories... and so rarely in our society are men asked to relate to the female experience, just because most things are about boys," says the actor, sitting down in Bustle's studio on a chilly December morning. "It’s Harry’s story, and Hermione’s there, and she gets everything done, P.S., but it wouldn’t have sold the same way if it was Hermione’s story or Harry was a girl."

...it’s not only for women just because it’s a 'woman story,' just like we see every guy movie, you know?

At least not back then it might not have. In the past several years, women-led projects have taken center stage in a way the world simply didn't allow back in Potter's time, and it's not just the ladies who are responding; from Bridesmaids (co-writers: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) to The Hunger Games series (producer: Nina Jacobson), Orange is the New Black (creator: Jenji Kohan) to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (producer: Kathleen Kennedy), men and women alike are coming out in droves to support movies, shows, and books with female protagonists. And then, of course, there's Feldstein's own film, Lady Bird, the female-led movie that might've just settled that score for good, to the tune of over $41 million and five Oscar nominations (from an Academy made up of 72 percent male voters). With those kind of numbers, the era of pop culture's Hermiones playing second fiddle to the Harrys might be nearing its end — much to Feldstein's wide-eyed, grinning delight.

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"I just feel like we’re at this point now where women’s voices and women’s lenses and the way that women see the world and that unique experience of being a girl in the world is starting to be validated," she says. "It’s really exciting to hear my guy friends, or family members of other people in the film that are guys, who have said like, 'I so relate to Lady Bird.' Or, 'I so relate to Julie,' or 'I so relate to Marian.' It’s just an important thing, I think, to tell those stories — it’s not only for women just because it’s a 'woman story,' just like we see every guy movie, you know?"

Oh, we know. For women who have seen Lady Bird — and if you haven't, go now — the Greta Gerwig-directed film doesn't just feel like a stellar piece of entertainment, but the on-screen equivalent of a huge, cathartic "finally." As Lady Bird's placement as Rotten Tomatoes' best-reviewed movie ever reflects, the film is everything so many of us didn't even realize we had been waiting for: an achingly real coming-of-age story that not only understands teenage girls to a T, but connects with everyone, regardless of their background. At some point or another, we were all a Lady Bird, or a Julie, or even a Marion.

"I think we’ve been ready for Lady Bird for a long time," Feldstein says when I speak to her for a second time, over the phone a few days after the Oscar nominations are released. She's driving in Los Angeles, and her voice, always bright and energetic, is even more so in the wake of her film's recent sweep (Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, and Original Screenplay). "In different ways, I was sort of gearing for this."

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It's obvious why Feldstein is thrilled about Lady Bird's success; before the film, she was best known as either a supporting player in Neighbors 2 or for being Jonah Hill's little sister. Playing Julie — the loyal, sweet best friend of Saoirse Ronan's eccentric lead in Gerwig's film — has changed her life in every way. But the actor's love for the movie goes deeper than that. As it did for so many women, Lady Bird made Feldstein feel seen, as if Gerwig found her most intimate thoughts and fears and hopes and laid them bare on the table.

"I always say Lady Bird can fit in the palm of your hand, like it’s something you can really hold with you always," the actor explains. "It’s small and warm and familial." She recalls how, a handful of times during production, the "magic" of the movie became evident.

There was the time Feldstein and Lucas Hedges were filming a dance scene, and, awe in his voice, he whispered to her how stunned he was that they were in Gerwig's first film. Then there was the scene when, bare-faced and wearing no costume other than a big T-shirt, Feldstein cried as Julie and thought about how revolutionary it was that Gerwig "created a friend who’s her own full person." And then there was the night in April of 2017 when, entering the party after the opening of her show Hello, Dolly on Broadway, Feldstein found Gerwig standing in the crowd alongside her family, ready to celebrate her debut. "I just was like, oh my god," Feldstein recalls now, making an exaggerated crying face. "Weeps. Just so many weeps."

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Since Lady Bird entered theaters in November, Feldstein's life has been a non-stop whirlwind, with her days spent either promoting the movie, singing in Hello, Dolly (her final performance in the acclaimed production was in mid-January), or, more often than not, somehow managing to do both. If she's exhausted, she doesn't show it, or maybe she simply doesn't care. "It’s been like the most overwhelming and special year of my life," Feldstein tells me. "There’s just no word that’s big enough to encapsulate how happy I am."

It's hard not to be happy for her, too. With a perpetual huge grin and an easygoing, "wait, have we met before?" vibe, Feldstein radiates warmth and familiarity, not to mention unfailing politeness. When she arrives at the studio for our interview, she insists that we listen to the photographer's favorite music, not her own; when an assistant compliments her shoes, she rushes to share where she got them (ASOS) and how much they cost ($30, on sale) so she's not the only one benefiting from the deal. Feldstein says she flip flops between which Lady Bird character she's most like, describing it the way a generation before her talked Sex and the City. When she's with her Lady Bird co-star "Saoirs," pronounced "Sheersh," she's the Julie, but with a childhood best friend, she's "totally the Lady Bird."

It's a fact that being around Feldstein makes you feel like you have a new best friend. She may not know you, but you know her, or at least she's very good at making you feel like you do. Which, she will tell you, is kind of the best. "It literally makes me tear up," she says (not tearing up, but you get the point), of her eternal BFF-ness. "That is the most beautiful thing anyone could say to me — that you feel like my friend. That is a dream for me, my true dream. My dream would be to be best friends with everybody."

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So far, she's succeeding. Between Ronan ("just effervescent"), Hedges ("like family"), and her high school BFF and Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt ("incredible"), Feldstein has racked up enough close pals to fill anyone's social calendar. But her friendship with Gerwig is special. The morning of the Oscar nominations, the duo had scheduled breakfast, but after word got out about Lady Bird's nods — including a history-making one for Gerwig as Best Director — Feldstein naturally presumed her pal would cancel. But Gerwig kept the plans. Driving over to meet her, Feldstein picked up bags of Cheetos and Diet Coke, the filmmaker's go-to snacks on set, to give as a congratulatory gift. The duo spent the morning "squealing and crying and freaking out," celebrating a victory that so many people already knew they deserved, but the Academy had now made official. "It was a day I will never forget," says Feldstein. "It was one of the sweetest moments I’ve ever had."

Chances are, Gerwig felt the same way, getting to celebrate her movie with the actor who helped give it the heartbreaking authenticity that's made it connect with $41.6 million worth of people — and counting.

Makeup: Gita Bass using Simple Skincare at Starworks Artists