In the luminous coming-of-age film "Brooklyn" two years ago, I wondered if we'd seen Saoirse Ronan taking her final step away from teenage roles. Thank goodness writer/director Greta Gerwig (better known as an actor, in "Maggie's Plan" and "Frances Ha" among others) talked her into doing one more. "Lady Bird" is a joy, from its start (a teenager and her mother, sleeping face to face on a hotel bed on a college trip) to its finish, when that ever-so-slightly older young woman takes a breath and looks out -- hopefully, nervously, excitedly -- into a limitless future.
Lady Bird (Ronan) is really named Christine, but she's taken on the quirky moniker because she wants to be special; she yearns, in her teenage way, to be something, though it doesn't much matter what. "Lady Bird" unfolds over a year in the early aughts in Sacramento, California, following Lady Bird's senior year at a Catholic high school to her early college days. Along the way, it traces Lady Bird's complex relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse who works overtime to keep the family going after her husband (Tracy Letts) loses his job, and her tentative explorations of love, with two very different classmates (Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet).
As an actor, Gerwig has shown an enchantingly light touch; she brings that to her work as director, as "Lady Bird" skims along happily, showing us moments both crucial and trivial in a teenage girl's life. (There are moments here as funny as any comedy this year, particularly a scene in which the school's football coach gets drafted into directing the senior-class play.) But there's depth everywhere, in the note-perfect supporting performances (led by the great Metcalf, who practically vibrates with equal measures of endless love and profound irritation), in the gentle sense of place, and in the film's palpable affection for its characters, who are often given the time and space to just hang with each other. The film's depiction of the quiet comfort of being with your best friend, for example, is unexpectedly moving.
And at the center of it all is Ronan, whose face, as always, provides its own movie screen. She plays the flinty Lady Bird/Christine as both a blank slate and a sketched-in canvas -- you can see the colors and nuances, filling themselves in, as she grows up before our eyes. At a meeting with her school's college counselor, Lady Bird -- whose grades are not stellar -- says that she wants to leave California and go somewhere "like Yale, but not Yale because I probably couldn't get in." The world for her is a book she's desperate to open; the pleasure of "Lady Bird" is watching those pages begin to turn.
With Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson.
Written and directed by Greta Gerwig.
Running time: 93 minutes.
Rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.
(c)2017 The Seattle Times
Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.