For her solo feature directorial debut, Gerwig made a personal story taking place in 2002 in the form of “Lady Bird,” which starred Saoirse Ronan in the lead role with a supporting cast that includes the likes of Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet, and Laurie Metcalf. It was a lengthy endeavor, with Gerwig working on the screenplay for a long time before securing financing to make the film in 2015. At one point, it was 350 pages. As she explained at a press conference in 2017:
“It was like 350 pages of stuff, that then I kind of looked at and figured out what felt essential and what felt like the core of the story to me. I don’t really decide what the core of a story is before I write, I write to figure out what the story is.”
The story that came from that massive document is about a relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. The mom (Metcalf) is a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Christine’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. The end result was met with widespread acclaim and was distributed by arthouse aficionados A24, with the studio deciding to release the film right in the heart of awards season in November 2017. It all went very well.
Beginning with a modest opening weekend in several theaters and building out from there, “Lady Bird” became a smash word-of-mouth hit, ultimately taking in $80.1 million at the global box office against a mere $10 million budget. It was, for a time, A24’s highest-grossing movie until “Hereditary” came along. Beyond that, the film garnered a great deal of awards season love, including five Oscar nominations, with Best Picture and Best Director for Gerwig among them. The AFI Awards also named it one of the ten best movies of the year. It was a tremendous success on every level.