Saoirse Ronan had done some stage work prior to filming the movie, and the heavy make-up combined with hot stage lights had caused some spontaneous eruptions of acne. Rather than covering it up, the make-up artist and Ronan convinced director Greta Gerwig to leave it visible, to differentiate the movie from most other coming-of-age dramas full of teenagers with perfect skin. Gerwig concurred.
Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig first met each other at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015 when Ronan was promoting Brooklyn (2015) and Gerwig was promoting Maggie's Plan (2015). Ronan had already read Gerwig's script and instantly connected with the titular character, so when both women discussed the script at length in Ronan's hotel room and she read the key part aloud, Gerwig knew that she had found her "Lady Bird."
The lead character is named Christine after director Greta Gerwig's mother, Christine Gerwig. In addition, the mother in the film, Marion (played by Laurie Metcalf), is a nurse, just as Christine is in real life.
Noah Baumbach offered to direct the movie but Greta Gerwig refused-- she had written a script and when she showed an early version to Baumbach, he offered to direct it. He also asked if he could help her finish writing it. Gerwig said she "wanted to absorb it." She thought about it for two weeks and then declined, having decided to direct it herself.
The film takes place from 2002 to 2003, the time when Greta Gerwig herself graduated from St. Francis Catholic High School in her hometown of Sacramento, California. Gerwig wanted to avoid making a contemporary movie, as she didn't feel confident to tell a story revolving around teenagers who are obsessed with their smart phones.
Lady Bird (2017) temporarily broke the record held by Toy Story 2 (1999) (163 reviews, all "fresh") of the best-reviewed movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes, with 196 "fresh" reviews in a row. However, it ended up getting its first "rotten" review after counting 197, therefore no longer holding a perfect score. It maintains a 100% rating for Top Critics.
The fact that Christine (Saoirse Ronan) and best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) wear the same color of nail polish is pure coincidence. Then, since there was a considerable degree of improvisational latitude allowed for character development on-set, a decision was made to have them wear the same polish color for the entire film.
After the school production of "Merrily We Roll Along" opens, Father Leviatch (Stephen McKinley Henderson) dejectedly laments that the audience "didn't get it." While this is part of Father Leviatch's storyline (it develops that he is clinically depressed), it is also a reference to the show's initial reception. Although "Merrily We Roll Along" is now considered a classic of American musical theater and the source of several of Stephen Sondheim's most beloved songs (including "Old Friends" and "Not a Day Goes By") the original Broadway production was ravaged by critics (in the New York Times, Frank Rich called the show "a shambles" and a waste of Sondheim's talent) and it closed after only 16 performances.
On the commentary track, Greta Gerwig says that Saoirse Ronan grew up Irish Catholic and Beanie Feldstein grew up American and Jewish, so Ronan taught Feldstein the Catholic prayers they have to recite in the film, while Feldstein taught Ronan the Pledge of Allegiance (which Ronan had never heard of before).
Nearly all of the songs sung in the audition scene were written by Stephen Sondheim, who also composed the musical they end up performing, "Merrily We Roll Along." The audition songs include "Being Alive" from "Company," "Everybody Says Don't" from "Anyone Can Whistle," and "Giants in the Sky" from "Into the Woods."
During a November 2017 interview on the NPR program "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," Gross asked Greta Gerwig why she chose the nickname "Lady Bird" for her main character (and therefore as the title of her movie) when most Americans (Gross included) were likely to then assume that the movie was about Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Johnson. Gerwig responded that the Johnson connection didn't occur to her while she was writing the screenplay, though she did admit that she later realized it was a source of confusion for many viewers, especially in Texas (where the Johnsons were from). Gerwig told Gross that she wasn't altogether sure where the name "Lady Bird" came from and that it was "one of the things that's so mysterious about writing," but that after she had written the script, she remembered a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, "Ladybird, ladybird / Fly away home / Your house is on fire / And your children all gone." Gerwig speculated that the poem "had lodged itself somewhere in my brain."
Greta Gerwig wanted to shoot the movie on Super 16 film stock, but due to budget constraints ultimately shot on digital with the Arri Alexa Mini. The final film emphasizes digital noise to create the effect of a Xeroxed copy of a photograph.
Lady Bird was chosen by the National Board of Review, the American Film Institute, and Time as one of the top 10 films of the year. At the 90th Academy Awards, it earned five nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress for Ronan, Best Supporting Actress for Metcalf, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director. At the 75th Golden Globe Awards, Lady Bird won for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Ronan), and was nominated for two more. It was nominated for three British Academy Film Awards.
The name "Lady Bird" is by far best known in American cultural history as the nickname of Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson, the wife of the 36th United States President, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). This movie has nothing to do with President Johnson or "Lady Bird" Johnson. However, it was coincidentally released in U.S. theaters the same weekend as Rob Reiner's biopic LBJ (2016), starring Woody Harrelson as President Johnson and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Mrs. Johnson. From 2005 to 2013, Leigh was married to director Noah Baumbach. In April 2013, the New Yorker magazine reported that the writer and director of Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig, had become Baumbach's romantic partner.
Lady Bird has pictures of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney on her wall which happen to be punk rock girl bands from the Riot Grrrl movement that initiated in the early 90s. Coincidentially, Greta Gerwig has worked with Kathleen Hanna, who is considered the pioneer of the Riot Grrrl movement, in the film "Maggie's Plan" where Kathleen makes a cameo appearance.
This film shares a lot of cast members with other 2018 Oscar nominated films: Timothee Chalamet is also in 'Call Me By Your Name', Kathryn Newton & Lucas Hedges are both in 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri', Tracy Letts is in 'The Post' and Saoirse Ronan voices a character in the animated film 'Loving Vincent'.
Gerwig's favorite scene she shot (according to her DVD commentary track) was of Ronan after turning eighteen bought cigarettes and a Playgirl magazine and outside could smoke and read (look at) the Playgirl magazine "full of pricks." (and the guy who served her was the real store owner.)
The "Kings Forever 1985" mural that is part of a montage involving Lady Bird driving through Sacramento near the end of the film has two meanings. One of them is that the Sacramento Kings did arrive in town in 1985, having moved from Kansas City. The other is that it looked like the NBA would approve the Kings to be moved from Sacramento to Seattle only a few years before this film was made, but instead the team found new ownership and built a modern new basketball arena (Golden 1 Arena) and are going to be in Sacramento for the foreseeable future.
This was the second movie in which Saoirse Ronan had played a character who insists on using a name other than their given one ("Lady Bird" instead of Christine). The first was How I Live Now (2013). ("Daisy" instead of Elizabeth)
While with Kyle, Ladybird develops a nosebleed. Kyle is played by Timotheé Chalamet who was nominated for best actor for Call Me by Your Name. In Call Me by Your Name, Timotheé Chalamet's character also suffers from nose bleeds.
The movie features the song "As We Go Along" by The Monkees, which was recorded for their 1968 cult classic "Head." Written by Carole King and Toni Stern, it was recorded in Hollywood at Wally Heider's on May 30 and Original Sound on August 1, 1968. Micky Dolenz sang the lead vocal and regularly performed the song as he continued to tour. Neil Young is also featured on the song playing lead guitar.
In the film, Lady Bird applies to Columbia University and later learns she was not accepted. Timothée Chalamet, who played Kyle in the film, actually went to Columbia University for one year before deciding to drop out and focus on acting.
At one point in the movie Lady Bird tells her mother that she's going to get a job and make a lot of money so she never has to speak to her again. If you listen carefully during this scene you can hear Saoirse Ronan's natural Irish accent slip out a bit