Greta Gerwig has gotten into my head; her halting and humorous performance style marries a solid, albeit gangly physicality and a weightless comic presence that is breathtakingly cute. There is something about her that begs for protection. She’s always just a little lost, as if she’s not quite of this world, but she’s not irritating or dense because in each and every moment she’s in the frame we see that she’s striving to adjust, to get her bearings, and that is Gerwig’s charming appeal.
I expressed a bit of concern for her, though, last year around this time as a matter of fact and public record. Brit Marling began whispering in my ear with Sound of My Voice, her speculative sci-fi feature. She was the latest indie It-Girl working with a whip-smart team of collaborators (Zal Batmanglij on Voice and Mike Cahill on Another Earth), much like Gerwig did with the Duplass brothers during their early Mumblecore run. And then by the time Gerwig took the stage with Lola Versus, I feared she might be slipping behind another up and comer, Lena Dunham, who had taken the inside track with her HBO series Girls.
But by the time September arrived — and with it the Toronto International Film Festival screening of Frances Ha, Gerwig’s latest project with Noah Baumbach — all doubts had been cleanly erased. In fact, this crew of women now looks like the leaders, along with the likes of Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color), Nicole Beharie (Shame) and Emayatzy Corinealdi and Ava DuVernay (star and director, respectively, of Middle of Nowhere), of a new school of revolutionaries bent on subverting and taking over the scene by any means necessary.
Gerwig, in the midst of promoting the release of Frances Ha, took some time to chat with me about her peers and what it takes to survive in Hollywood.
“I’m very much inspired,” she began, “by the group of women who are exercising their abilities as writers and directors and producers and creators.”
She added contemporaries like Liz Meriwether (executive producer of the television series New Girl) and Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), but also name checked Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
And while it feels like there’s been a roiling tide of women washing up on the Hollywood beaches, reality and the facts speak to something quite different.
Gerwig recalled a recent University of Southern California study that reported, “Last year, there were the lowest number of speaking parts for women ever in the movies. If you’re a female actress, that’s bad news because people aren’t telling stories for you. They’re telling stories for teenage boys.”
And the solution is obvious: “(You need) to have more women writer-directors, creators of their own material.”
But there’s something about this moment, though, captured even in Steven Soderbergh’s “State of Cinema” address at the San Francisco Film Festival that speaks to the changing definition of storytelling in motion pictures. He’s coming from the perspective of someone on the way out of film, seeking other means of expression, while as a critic, I find myself looking beyond the big screen and the studio distribution system for filmed narratives that are engaging and challenging.
While appreciating all the platforms available, Gerwig remains faithful to the shared experience over everything else.
“I love movies and I love movie theaters and theater and I love experiencing something with an audience in the same space. That’s something that’s losing its way in this cultural moment with everyone watching stuff on their iPads. It’s convenient and I do it, but when I think of telling a story, it’s about the big screen and people huddled together. Maybe that’s old-fashioned, but that’s the way I connect to it.
“I think of it as a kid who grew up in the ‘90s, and my comparison to a similar transition is the bookstore situation. All of the independent bookstores were being pushed out by Barnes & Noble and Borders, and now Barnes & Noble and Borders are being put out of business by the Internet. But the (independent) bookstores that survived all of it, they’re still here. If you can just be the cockroach of your genre or field, there will still be a place for you. It just might be a more rarified place.”
I couldn’t help laughing at the idea of being the cockroach of your genre, but Gerwig’s onto something here.
“Yeah, that’s my goal,” she said, and it’s hard to argue with the logic, no matter how funny the image because she’s working it to perfection.
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