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Brent Northup

Lady Bird

Myrna Loy and Cinemark

(R)

Grade: A-

The last time we fell in love with Saoirse (“sersha,” rhymes with inertia) Ronan, she was a lonely 20-year-old Irish woman, dreaming of spreading her wings and moving to “Brooklyn” in 1950. She ended up facing an agonizing choice as she fell in love with two good men, from two continents.

Two years later, Ronan is back to steal our hearts again, this time playing a 17-year-old girl from Sacramento in 2002, again dreaming of escaping from her suffocating home to attend college in New York.

Both times we are drawn to an unpretentious young woman, struggling to triumph over forces trying to keep her “in her place.”

Both times her indomitable redheaded spirit prevails.

“Lady Bird” is a refreshing coming of age tale of a high school girl whose mother discounts and diminishes her every day. Lady Bird was born Christine, but in her first act of defiance, she renames herself Lady Bird – a name her mother ridicules and rejects.

When Lady Bird talks about applying to good colleges, her mom says he’s not smart enough or classy enough – that she’ll never get in. Despite the intense daily put downs, Lady Bird keeps seeking her mom’s love.

Life at school is no better. Lady Bird is a sassy free spirit, prone to bluntness. When a pro-life speaker says she was nearly aborted, Lady Bird responds: “But then we wouldn’t have had to sit through this boring assembly.”

She’s booted from school.

Lady Bird is a well-drawn character, with insecurities mixed with fierce determination – and spiced up with a cynical sense of humor. Ronan blends those into a charismatic, sympathetic character.

The power in “Lady Bird” lies in a mother-daughter relationship that starts out as a one-dimensional verbal abuse, and evolves into redemption and affection. Slowly we learn mom’s backstory, which involves a horrific childhood. She’s tough on her daughter, in part, because mom never recovered – and projects her own weakness onto her daughter.

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But this Lady Bird will fly through storms that knocked down her mom.

“Lady Bird” might be called a coming-of-age mom-story, too. The growth of the mother is nuanced and believable as captured by Laurie Metcalf, who may win an Oscar nomination for this work.

The cast is also replete with actors who, likely inspired to work alongside Ronan, portray adolescence with uncanny accuracy.

The result is a coming-of-age story that transcends the genre, much in the same way as “Brooklyn” did.

My one reservation with “Lady Bird” lies in the age of Ronan. She’s 23 playing 17, and as someone who knows both ages well, I always sensed she was too old for high school. In “Brooklyn” Ronan was 21 playing 20, a perfect fit.

Fortunately, in the final chapter of “Lady Bird,” the young girl heads for college and closes the age gap with Ronan so that the final scenes resonate as more age-authentic. Maybe others won’t notice that discrepancy, but high school teachers might.

Ronan is a gem, raised in America by Irish parents. She’s traveling the same path as Brie Larson, who caught our attention in independent films such as “Short Term 12” before catching fire and winning her inevitable Oscar.

Ronan will have her own statue in short order. Maybe not this year, which belongs to Frances McDormand, but soon.

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