Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
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Although she’s just turned 30 and has just been on the scene for a handful of years, there’s something about Greta Gerwig that both sets her apart from and makes her very emblematic of the Indie film scene. Her looks are more jolie-laide than beautiful and she embodies quirky, laid-back traits while exuding the kind of honesty and insecurity commonly associated with real-life scenarios.
The California-born actress and writer, who stars in Francis Ha which she co-wrote with director Noah Baumbach, has been the “It” girl of the Mumblecore scene since appearing in 2006 in low budget movies like LOL and Hannah Takes The Stairs the following year. Fans and critics alike have been drawn to her magnetic portrayals of offbeat, winsome characters, particularly the 2008 romantic comedy Nights and Weekends, in which she played one-half of a couple grappling with the realities of a long-distance love affair.
But it was in 2010 that Greta made her mainstream debut in the critically acclaimed Greenberg as the object of Ben Stiller’s perverted affection, making Hollywood sit up and take notice. Her portrayal of a slightly insecure, clumsy woman who yet has a quiet confidence about her was memorable and captured the public and the director’s eye. She quickly moved from being a Mumblecore sweetheart to being one of the most definitive actresses of her time. Baumbach left his wife and mother of his child, Jennifer Jason Leigh for Gerwig and the two have been a couple and co-collaborators ever since.
Greta describes the collaboration process on the script with Baumbach to the HFPA: “I sent him a list of ideas I’d been kicking around, tiny moments and scenes and snippets of dialogue, just a collection of stuff and he was very excited at what he saw and encouraged me to keep writing. I feel as much ownership over the writing process as I do over the acting process.”
Frances Ha was shot in black and white and is the story of a two women friends played by Gerwig and Mickey Summer, who’ve known each other since college. The movie's initial dramatic thrust comes from Frances breaking away from her old college friend and current roommate Sophie (the good-looking, intellectual-seeming Sumner, daughter of rock musician Sting). The bespectacled Sophie not only shares the flat with Frances but also the odd cigarette and the same asexual bed. She's a successful editor at Random House, and Frances fantasizes that Sophie will eventually publish the book that confirms Frances’ artistic success. But Sophie is moving on and out, eventually to Japan with her boyfriend, an investment banker. Frances’ drifting, both physical and mental, begins when she can't afford to live alone in the flat she fancies. Her moves from ménage to ménage are like an essay on the tastes, behavior, lifestyles and interior decoration of young, semi-bohemian New Yorkers, and the movie offers a fairly realistic view of their lives.
Frances Ha has no narrative development in the customary sense. It's a succession of skilfully observed scenes, simultaneously funny and embarrassing, that illustrate her offhand humor, her self-deception and the web of little white lies that sustain her. She invents job interviews. She tells her kindly superior at a modern dance company that there are prospects elsewhere. She pretends her relationships are more firmly based than they are. Gerwig is in every scene and she dominates the movie.
Although Gerwig grew up in Sacramento in a house full of art and literature, she had no connections to show business. Her father works in computers and her mother is a nurse. She studied at Barnard College in New York where she wrote plays and co-founded an improv group called The Tea Party Ensemble.
“I grew up far away from films and I didn’t have any “ins” to the business that would help me, so when I graduated I really just started making what I could, going to auditions, having day jobs and working as hard as I could.”
She and Baumbach are continuing to collaborate and have just finished writing their second movie together in which she will also star. They hope to begin shooting early next year.