Both Greta Gerwig and the character Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson came of age in the early '00s in Sacramento, California and attended an all-girls private Catholic high school (Gerwig attended St. Francis High School). They were both theater nerds. Like the character she created, during her senior year in high school in 2002, Gerwig longed to escape Sacramento for the culture and theater scene of New York City, where she hoped to attend college. After unsuccessful auditions for the acting programs at Juilliard and NYU, she found herself at Barnard, one of the oldest women's colleges in the world.
Though there are similarities between Gerwig and the film, the Lady Bird movie is not a recreation of Greta Gerwig's experience in high school. She said that she never dyed her hair bright red or made anyone call her by a different name. "Lady Bird is the opposite of how I was in Catholic school. I was a real rule-follower and a people-pleaser and a gold star-getter," says Gerwig. "Lady Bird is a flawed heroine that I invented." She added, "Even though I start with things that are close to me, they so quickly spin out and become their own characters" (The Hollywood Reporter). She described Lady Bird as "the girl I wished I could've been, in a way" (TimesTalks).
Yes. This is one of the bigger things that Gerwig has in common with the character Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). "I really wanted to make a movie that was a reflection on home and what does home mean, and how does leaving home define what it is for you and your love for it," Gerwig said. "I felt like it was a love letter to Sacramento, and I felt like, what better way to make a love letter than through somebody who wants to get out, and then realizes that they loved it?" In her Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Gerwig thanked the people of Sacramento, who she said, "give me roots and wings." -New York Film Festival Press Conference
No. Laurie Metcalf's character, Marion McPherson, was not inspired by Greta Gerwig's mother. "Laurie's character is nothing like my mother," Gerwig told Rolling Stone. She explained that the volatile onscreen dynamic between mother and daughter was not modeled after her relationship with her own mother. However, she feels that most people will be able to, at least to some degree, sympathize with Lady Bird's relationship with her mother Marion.
During an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Gerwig explained why it bothers her when people think Lady Bird is a true story based on her life. "Because I spent so long writing it, and I worked so hard on the script to get it just right, and I don't like the implication that it's not an act of imagination, because it is 100 percent an act of imagination."
During the Greta Gerwig interview listed below, the screenwriter/director stresses that Lady Bird is not based on a true story. The movie has certain things in common with her life because she approached the script from the standpoint of "write what you know," but it is not autobiographical.