Coming-of-age film follows teenage girl through senior year

Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig

‘Lady Bird’

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf

Directed by: Greta Gerwig

Rated: PG-13

As a daughter, it was hard not to think about my own relationship with my mother as a teenager while watching this. The mother and daughter in Greta Gerwig’s new film are so relatable in their interactions, however sharp they might be. The clashes these two have are further exacerbated by 17-year old Christine’s demand to be called “Lady Bird.” To the film’s credit, which Gerwig also wrote, an explanation for this is never offered. It’s just Christine’s alter ego in her never-ending attempts to project herself out of Sacramento.

Her mother, Marion, played to perfection by Laurie Metcalf, routinely points out that an East Coast college is out of the question because they can’t afford it on their lower-middle-class budget, and Christine probably isn’t smart enough anyway. Harsh words, but she’s the voice of practicality and reason to Christine’s restless flightiness. Compounding the issue is her father’s (Tracy Letts) recent job loss.

This is a fresh, observant coming-of-age tale that is mostly autobiographical on Gerwig’s part. She did grow up in Sacramento and went to a Catholic high school for girls, just as Christine does. The film follows Christine throughout her senior year as she channels her creative spirit into trying out for a play and then dumps the nerdy theater kids for the A-group, loses her virginity and experiences all the many other emotional ups and downs and teen angst those of the age endure. She doesn’t know what she wants, and neither does anyone else.

Ronan, who first appeared to American audiences as a child actress in “Atonement,” has grown up on screen and, along the way, she has honed her acting skills. The Irish accent of her birth disappears as she seamlessly morphs into an anxious American teenage girl with big dreams. The character is quirky, maddening and sympathetic. She’s also smart and funny, which even earns her a pass from Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the headmaster at her school, after she’s caught in a harmless school prank.

Credit goes to Gerwig, the darling of indie films, for crafting such a great story. Like Christine it’s funny, touching and not without its merits, even though some of the exchanges between Christine and her mother carry a sharp sting. What comes through is the awkward plethora of emotions that arise as a young woman is coming into her own as her mother must learn to let go.

There is already buzz for Metcalf in the supporting actress category, and there could be more nominations for Gerwig for best original screenplay and, possibly, directing. That would be the icing on the cake of what is already shaping up to be one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year.

“Lady Bird” is playing now in Houston..