“Lady Bird” A Bittersweet Mother-Daughter Tale

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“Lady Bird” is a mother-daughter story in the tough-love tradition of “Juno” and the bittersweet coming-of age story “Gregory’s Girl” by Scottish director (and romcom pioneer) Bill Forsyth.

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Saoirise Ronan and Beanie Feldstein

The thing about kids is that when they learn to walk they begin walking away. Saoirise Ronan plays the title character, a senior at a Catholic high school taking her first defiantly wobbly steps toward becoming who she will be.

Spoiler alert: in real life she became Greta Gerwig, the actress-writer-director whose film is semi-autobiographical and has the sharply drawn details to prove it.

Ronan, an Oscar nominee for “Atonement” and “Brooklyn” (and a likely award candidate here) may actually be a twentysomething, but her performance as a moody teenager is an age appropriate creation of equal parts curiosity and defiance.

She says Lady Bird is her given name because she gave it to herself. But her real name is Christine and her relationship with her drill sergeant alpha mother, played by the versatile Laurie Metcalf, is complicated in that Lady Bird is more like her than not. In the very first scene she leaps from a moving car rather than listen to her mother’s complaints about her attitude.

Playwright-screenwriter-actor Tracy Letts, like Metcalf a Steppenwolf Theater alum, is the emotionally supportive dad; Lucas Hedges from “Manchester By the Sea,” is the “perfect” on the outside first boyfriend; Lois Smith is a supportive nun and school principal; newcomer Beanie Feldstein is the scene stealing BFF (at one point she and Lady Bird snack on unconsecrated hosts); and Stephen Henderson is a  priest, troubled by some unexplained crisis.

The characters are revealed in full with sympathy and sensitivity and the actors give award worthy performances individually and as an ensemble.  Collectively they form a bridge across which Lady Bird scrambles from her home in Sacramento toward her dream of college in New York.

And in doing so she follows in the footsteps of her alter ego Gerwig, who years later willed this film into existence.

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