Women We Love: Greta Gerwig

Saoirse Ronan & Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird | ©Merie Wallace

Greta Gerwig was nominated for five Oscars for her film Lady Bird and is being celebrated as a feminist leader

Ah, yes, now life can really begin.” That’s how filmmaker Greta Gerwig recently described the feeling of arriving in New York at the age of 19 to The New York Times. At the time, Gerwig was enrolled at the venerable Barnard College, where she studied philosophy and English. The school is generally regarded as a training ground for America’s successful line-ups of women. Now 34, for Gerwig the east coast and its vibrant metropolis was the embodiment of America’s intellectual and creative elite.

Greta Gerwig had grown up on the west coast where she spent a sheltered middle-class childhood in sleepy Sacramento that allowed for plenty of room for big dreams. After graduating from college, she conquered the New York independent film scene. Alongside director Joe Swanberg, Gerwig coined and shaped the Mumblecore film movement, America’s response to the Dogma 95 movement from Denmark, and is responsible for the scripts for the Mumblecore cult films Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends.

She achieved international success at the side of director Noah Baumbach, with whom she is still linked today. Under Baumbach’s direction in 2012, Frances Ha provided a pioneering woman’s role and one which brought Gerwig a large fan base even outside the USA. The film’s protagonist of the same name is one of many approachable anti-heroines who are not only embodied by Greta Gerwig, but also came from her pen. Frances Ha tells the story of a dancer without ongoing work; just as passionate as she is untalented, she is faced with the painful experience of having to let go of her childhood dream. This is precisely where the secret of Gerwig’s success lies: She makes moments of failure the focus of her films and brings them onto the screen in such a humorous, authentic, and life-affirming way that audiences leave their seats exhilarated and inspired.

 

Gerwig portrays her roles just as authentically as she drafts them, which may come down to the fact that she always lets a part of herself flow into her heroines. Just like herself, most of her protagonists are driven and fed by the fast-paced and diverse metropolis of New York. It’s almost tempting to stylize her as the Woody Allen of a new generation, but she no longer wants to be associated with the director, who cast her in his 2012 film To Rome With Love. She recently put it on the record that she would turn down the role if she were offered it today, the reason being that the cult director came under fire with his daughter’s accusations of abuse in the course of the #metoo debate.

That’s why Gerwig is celebrated, among other things, as a new leader in feminism. The filmmaker cannot be reduced to the role of the muse who inspires male genius, and rather asserts herself as a filmmaker in a male-dominated industry. In the case of her latest film, Lady Bird, she was not content to only write the script – she also, for the first time, directed it. Lady Bird now tells the part of her biography that started before “real life” in New York began.

She was awarded this year’s Golden Globe in the category of Best Comedy and Saoirse Ronan won Best Actress in a Comedy for her portrayal of the film’s heroine, Christine. As a female power-duo, they shone in symbolic black gowns on the red carpet protesting against the inequality of the film industry. In doing so, they supported the Time’s Up initiative, which wants to help women working in all fields across America defend themselves against injustice in the workplace.

Lady Bird is nominated for five Oscars, including a nomination for Best Film. Gerwig is the only woman competing for the trophy in this category. And it’s not least for this reason that we hope Gerwig will take home the Oscar on March 4th as a representative of all the women shaping the film industry.

Lady Bird is not just a film made for women, by a woman – and that makes it a serious contender for the trophy, above all political calculations. Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye. Unlike J.D. Salinger’s hero Holden Caulfield, who is afraid of losing his innocence as he grows up, Gerwig’s heroine Christine can hardly wait. She wants to escape her uneventful small town, her catholic high school, and her mother’s wings so that “real life” can finally begin, only to find out that she is already in the middle of it.

“I wanted to capture how the moment you move from having everything in the world revolve around you to recognizing people outside of yourself is an essential part of growing up…also the vividness of the emotions of that time: You’re literally experiencing everything for the first time, falling in love or getting in a fight or moving away. It’s all happening for the first time,” explains Gerwig. In this way, it addresses universal themes of growing up with which women and men can equally identify.

Lady Bird will open in Germany on the 19th of April.

AUTHOR: CHRISTINE KORTE
TRANSLATION: MELISSA FROST

Born in Cologne, Christine Korte is a truly a cheerful soul from the Rhineland. After studying German language and literature in Marburg, she gained her first experience in fashion in Milan and Paris in the correspondence offices of German Vogue and the Women's Wear Daily. After going on to work at Glamour, Grazia, and Flair, she now lives as a freelance journalist in Berlin and writes for online magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Refinery29. Aside from fashion, theater, and film, her passion lies in long walks with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Udo.