Greta Gerwig on ‘Lady Bird’: What if Someone Made a Movie that Showed the Beautiful Things About Catholic Schools?

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed the award-winning “Lady Bird”—a movie set in a Catholic high school in Sacramento. In a number of interviews, Gerwig has explained the influence of her own experience at a Catholic high school and how it shaped the film.

At America, Eloise Blondiau writes:

Although this is a film saturated in Catholic imagery and language, Ms. Gerwig is not Catholic and never has been. She did, however, attend Catholic school and wanted to make a film that reflected her joyful experience there.

“There’s plenty of stuff to make a joke out of [in Catholic schools], but what if you didn’t? What if you took it seriously and showed all the things that were beautiful about it?” she asked.

Ms. Gerwig told me that in addition to her theological education, at school she encountered “for lack of a better word, a lot of groovy priests and nuns who were very funny and engaged and open and really truly saw their students.”

The boys’ school down the road from Ms. Gerwig in Sacramento was run by Jesuits, and some Jesuit influences have seeped into “Lady Bird.” When the students from the girls’ and boys’ schools come together for a theater production, they chant “St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!” and the priests double as football coaches and drama teachers. “What [the Jesuits] were trying to teach us, I think, and the nuns as well,” Ms. Gerwig said, “is that there are all kinds of ways of serving God….

She added: “I think it was echoed later when I read [Father] James Martin’s account of Ignatius, who was ambitious, and then he became ambitious but in service of this other thing. This idea that whatever you’ve got, God can use.”

At RNS, Emily McFarlan Miller writes:

You’ve described this movie as a “love letter to Sacramento,” your hometown. But is it also a love letter to Catholic schools?

Definitely. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I loved Catholic high school, and I loved my Catholic high school, St. Francis.

I was actually very different than Lady Bird. I wasn’t a rebel. I never made anybody call me by a different name or dyed my hair bright red. I never challenged authority. I was a very rule-following kid. But I encountered so many adults there who really impacted my life so positively. There were priests and nuns who were just compassionate and funny and empathetic and thoughtful, and they really engaged with the students as people, not figureheads. And that was also true of the lay people who were teachers — theology teachers or choir teachers and all these different parts of the school.

I felt, as a moviegoer, kind of making fun of Catholic school has been covered. There’s lots of movies that have this idea of making it into kind of a joke, and I wanted to do something that reflected more like the genuine guidance and interest and compassion I found in those people, and I didn’t want it to feel like they were just a nun with a ruler or something.