START OF GREATNESS

Direc­tor Ger­wig’s film so ap­peal­ing, we can’t wait to see the next

Chicago Sun-Times - - MOVIES - BY RICHARD ROEPER Movie Colum­nist Email: rroeper@sun­times.com Twit­ter: @ richardroeper

You might know Greta Ger­wig as the charm­ing and quirky and de­light­ful ac­tress from films such as “To Rome With Love,” “Frances Ha” and “Jackie,” and what a fine and im­pres­sive ca­reer she’s made for her­self as a per­former — but based on her work as the wri­ter­di­rec­tor of “Lady Bird,” this is my re­quest:

Please write and di­rect an­other 25 films, Greta Ger­wig.

Set in the Sacra­mento of the early 2000s and in­spired by Ger­wig’s ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up there, “Lady Bird” has a dis­tinct in­die- movie vibe with­out fall­ing into any typ­i­cal in­die- movie pit­falls. It is smart with­out be­ing smug, in­sight­ful with­out be­ing con­de­scend­ing, funny with­out be­ing mean- spir­ited and gen­uinely mov­ing.

It’s unique and orig­i­nal and fresh and won­der­ful, and can you tell I loved it?

Saoirse Ro­nan (“Atone­ment,” “Brook­lyn”), who is only 23 but is al­ready on the “it’s only a mat­ter of time” Os­car fast track, de­liv­ers a pure and hon­est per­for­mance as high school se­nior Chris­tine McPher­son, who has rechris­tened her­self “Lady Bird” be­cause she finds her given name, and her given life, bor­ing.

Lady Bird is a bright but not par­tic­u­larly ac­com­plished stu­dent at an all­girls Catholic school. She’s not a to­tal out­cast, but she’s not one of the pop­u­lar kids. She has one truly close friend, Julie ( Beanie Feld­stein, funny and nat­u­ral and ter­rific), who is a step be­low even Lady Bird’s de­cid­edly av­er­age place­ment in the high school hi­er­ar­chy.

To our great good for­tune, Step­pen­wolf The­atre leg­ends Lau­rie Met­calf and Tracy Letts play Lady Bird’s par­ents.

Lady Bird’s mother Mar­ion works dou­ble shifts as a nurse in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal and clearly loves her fam­ily ( which in­cludes an adopted son named Miguel, played by Jor­dan Ro­drigues), but wow is Mar­ion rough on her daugh­ter. We can un­der­stand why Lady Bird’s se­cret dream is to get ac­cepted at a col­lege on the East Coast, as far away from Mar­ion as pos­si­ble.

Lady Bird’s fa­ther Larry is a sweet but trag­i­cally sad man, trapped un­der the blan­ket of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion. Larry has learned to pick and choose his bat­tles and his causes, be­cause he knows he has only so much emo­tional strength to spend.

There’s no level of act­ing on a higher plane than what Met­calf and Letts achieve in this film. This is what greatness looks like.

Lu­cas Hedges (“Manch­ester by the Sea”) plays Lady Bird’s first se­ri­ous boyfriend, Danny. When their re­la­tion­ship takes a sur­pris­ing turn, it’s han­dled with grace and in­tel­li­gence, and it feels just right.

Even the beau­ti­ful and wealthy and su­per­fi­cial and pop­u­lar and en­vied- by- all char­ac­ter ( Odeya Rush) is por­trayed in a way that tran­scends the usual high school movie stereo­types. We ( and Lady Bird) see her fu­ture be­fore she does, and there’s some­thing sad ( and authen­tic) about that.

Ger­wig’s screen­play is a trea­sure trove of pitch- per­fect scenes, whether it’s the rel­a­tively straight­for­ward, high- school com­edy ma­te­rial, or the bru­tally raw mother- daugh­ter con­fronta­tions that will un­doubt­edly leave emo­tional bruises on both par­tic­i­pants for decades to come.

Lady Bird’s life ad­ven­tures are just be­gin­ning as “Lady Bird” the movie draws to a close.

Per­haps Ger­wig will pick up Lady Bird’s story in a fol­low- up film. Or maybe she’ll say good­bye to these char­ac­ters and move on to some­thing else.

Ei­ther way, I’m sure we will re­mem­ber this film as the first step in a long and im­pres­sive ca­reer.

A high school se­nior ( Saoirse Ro­nan, left) has a testy re­la­tion­ship with her mother ( Lau­rie Met­calf) in “Lady Bird.”

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