February 13, 1995 12:00 PM

Crissy Rock, Vladimir Vega

Rock, a thick-necked, heavily built stand-up comic, plays a British working-class mother—with four children by four different men—who nearly loses custody to the state after she takes up with a physically abusive boyfriend. When she thoughtlessly leaves the children alone locked in the apartment, a fire breaks out. One son is seriously burned, and the children are taken away from her permanently. Months later she meets a kind, sad Paraguayan immigrant (Vega). But, as they repeatedly try to start their own family over the next few years, social-service officials determine that each child is at risk from such a mother, and—in the movie’s most harrowing scenes—step in whenever a baby is born and literally wrest the child away. Rock responds with bewildered fury and despair, howling, sobbing, screaming, charging—a female Raging Bull.

That’s too simple a comparison, though. Rock’s complexity is what makes Ladybird so powerful and troubling. Why does a woman of such combative rage allow herself to be a victim, cowering at the prospect of yet another beating from her boyfriend? How to deal with a woman who makes, at best, a problematic mother yet has a maternal instinct that is unquenchable and undeniable? This emotionally crushing movie is based on a true case. (Not rated)

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