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Is Lady Bird Based on Greta Gerwig’s Life?

June 2, 2020
4 min read

One of the best coming-of-age movies of recent times, ‘Lady Bird’ follows the story of a rebellious teenager and her difficult relationship with her mother. With Saoirse Ronan in the lead role, the film is written and directed by Greta Gerwig. The film has amassed critical acclaim, and garnered several Academy Award nominations. One of the things that makes it such a great watch is how close it resonates to reality. It does not fall into the trap of cliches that almost every other teen drama with a female lead indulges in. How did Gerwig get this authenticity in the story? Is it ‘Lady Bird’ based on her life? Here’s the answer.

Is Lady Bird Based on a true story?

No, ‘Lady Bird’ is not based on a true story. It is based on an original screenplay written by Gerwig. Several elements of the films in sync with Gerwig’s life have led people to believe that the film is semi-autobiographical. However, Gerwig has denied this claim. Nothing in the film actually ever happened to her, but the feeling of it is what she related to while writing the story.

In fact, as opposed to the rebellious Christine, Gerwig was a straight-A student who didn’t get in much trouble. While writing ‘Lady Bird’, she explored the possibility of a teenage girl who was of a more complex nature than her. “Writing this character was an exploration of all these things I didn’t have access to or I couldn’t be. In that way, it almost felt like this fairy-tale invention of a deeply flawed heroine, but one who I admire,” she said.

Also, she wanted to create a story about a 17-year-old girl which was not focused on some “will they, won’t they” romance angle, but on the individuality and the exploration of self. She wanted a girl version for movies like ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Moonlight’.

One of the themes that resonates throughout the film is the importance of one’s hometown. Lady Bird is desperate to leave Sacramento, and in the end, when she does leave it, it is not what she expected. This is where Gerwig channeled her own experience of leaving home. As a teenager, she, too, had wanted to leave Sacramento the first chance she got. But, it was after she moved to NYC, that she realized just how much she loved her home. By working that feeling into the film, she wrote a love letter to her hometown.

It isn’t just Sacramento that Lady Bird misses after she goes to college. Throughout the film, she has a rocky relationship with her mother, but that storm settles down when she is away from home. Though Gerwig’s mother was not like Laurie Metcalf’s character in the film, the director did get the mother-daughter relationship right in a number of ways.

For her, ‘Lady Bird’ was always to be a love story between a mother and daughter. She found the conflict between them by making both of them the same person. They don’t fight with each other because they are polar opposites, but because they are built the same way. As a nod to her mother, she named the protagonist Christine after her and made Marion a nurse, like her.

Other small things that Gerwig shares with her protagonist are that they both attended a Catholic School and graduated around the same time, in the early 2000s. Gerwig did not set the story in contemporary times because she was not confident about telling the story of smartphone-dependent generation.

As for the name Lady Bird, Gerwig says that it came to her when she had hit a block in the story. She scribbled it on a piece of paper and as the nickname for her protagonist came into the picture, the path cleared for the story. Later, she realized that the title came from a nursery rhyme that “had lodged itself somewhere in her brain.” It goes like: “Ladybird, ladybird / Fly away home / Your house is on fire / And your children all gone.”

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