From Frances Ha to Barbie, or how we fell in love with Greta Gerwig

I write to understand what the story is. And I think the characters end up talking to you and telling you what they want to do and what’s important to them. So somehow your job is to listen to them as well as to write.

About a decade ago, when a (still very small) segment of the public first started to take notice of his talent, it was almost impossible to imagine that in 2023 everyone would be talking about him. Greta Gerwig like a record holder. And, as you know, it Barbie (here’s our review) grinds it up at supersonic speed: from an impressive debut in the US, with collections of over one hundred and sixty million dollars, and monstrous numbers in the rest of the world; Italy is included this time, as the decision to release the film in mid-summer, at the same time as America, more than pays off expectations (a million viewers in the first four days of programming: a real miracle by our standards) . But it’s not just about the numbers: the Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling film, barring some controversial opinions, gets rave reviews for how it manages to blend feminist fable with comedy. advertising court.

Greta Gerwig

Pictured Greta Gerwig

Ten years ago, as we said, there were already those who were aware of Greta Gerwig’s unique qualities as an author as well as an actress; however, the direction of his career, the specifics of his professional choices, and his appeal to models that were anything but the mainstream, heralded a path addressed to a rather limited circle of fans. Trivialization of discourse: Greta Gerwig’s films and with her mostly consisted of characters talking non-stop about their feelings, often in the frame. movie truth. In short, it’s definitely not the right formula for a box office hit, at least not in an era where blockbusters, sagas and Disney-branded products dominated the media spotlight, even more so than today. So what happened during this time? What led the great lady of mumblecore to become the female director with the best debut at the box office, and also to create a kind of personal brand capable of attracting tens of millions of moviegoers?

First steps, from mumblecore to Noah Baumbach (2006-2010)

Hanna climbs the stairs

Hannah climbs the stairs: Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig

When Greta Gerwig made her debut in front of the camera in 2006, she had not yet turned twenty-three; after graduating from a Catholic school in her native Sacramento in 2002, she moved to the opposite end of America, to New York, to enroll in the prestigious Barnard College (just like the future star Lady Bird). His very first films LAUGHING OUT LOUD 2006 and Hanna climbs the stairs 2007, filmed by 25-year-old Joe Swanberg on a minimal budget and belong to the new direction of American independent cinema, the so-called mumblecore: works with a naturalistic cut, often with semi-improvised jokes, in which the narrative action is wholly or almost subservient to the dialogic dimension, in a tradition that appeals to filmmakers such as John Cassavetes, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater and, apparently, the French master Eric Romer.


The wacky world of Greenberg: a painting by Greta Gerwig

Analysis of characters and their relationships (Firstly beloved), the founders of Mumblecore, is what Gerwig most admires, who in 2007 wrote the screenplay for Hanna climbs the stairs (available on MUBI), and a year later he also made his directorial debut alongside Swanberg in Nights and Weekends, in which the two directors take on the role of an engaged couple trying to figure out how to save their relationship. In a chain of independent writers that moves between the Texas SXSV festival and the more famous Sundance festival in Utah, Greta has starred in horror films such as marsupial heads the Duplass brothers and devil’s house Ti West before he hit the set of his first major production in 2009: the comedy Greenberg’s Weird World, directed by Noah Baumbach.

Herwig Baumbach

In the photo Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach.

Presented in competition at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, the film shows Gerwig sharing the stage with Ben Stiller (he is in his forties, recovering from a nervous breakdown, she is an assistant in her brother’s wealthy family) and earns her first critical praise, including an award nomination. Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress. But most of all, Wacky World of Greenberg marks the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between the young actress and Noah Baumbach, who from 2011 will also become her partner in his personal life.

Greta Gerwig: her best roles, from Frances Ha to Mistress America

The last cowboy, all romance and failure (2011-2016)

Gerwig Women of the 20th century

Women in my life: photo by Greta Gerwig

If 2011 is the year of the first film engagements from major studios (Friends, lovers and…. AND Arthurremake of the 1981 classic), overall Greta Gerwig remains more interested in working with directors with a strong auteur stamp: Whit Stillman (Girls in trouble2011), Woody Allen (To Rome with love2012), Mia Hansen-Löwe ​​(Eden2014), Barry Levinson (Humiliation2014, in which he co-stars with a sacred monster of the caliber of Al Pacino), Rebecca Miller (Maggie’s plan2015 romantic comedy with Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore) and then again in 2016 ensemble comedy Wiener dog Todd Solondz Jackie Pablo Larrain, Natalie Portman, e Women in my life Mike Mills, with Annette Bening. But this is also the period when Greta Gerwig is working with Noah Baumbach to write scripts for two very important films: in 2012 Francis Ha (released the following year in the US) and in 2015. Miss America.


Frances Ha: photo by Greta Gerwig

Chapters in a perfect diptych of the anxieties and aspirations of millennials in their early thirties, both films see Gerwig as author and protagonist in the setting of New York City, a land of opportunity but also an alienating, slippery metropolis. into hopeless loneliness. In Frances Ha, the award-winning Frances Halladay, an aspiring dancer from Sacramento who has a sense of incompleteness, is constantly on the move (from one borough of New York to another, from the East Coast to the West, even from Paris) is considered undated (“unreliable”) because he has a hyper-idealized view of relationships as well as human relationships and suddenly clings to friendship. Awarded a Golden Globe nomination with Francis Ha Greta is building an iconic role in a film that will be increasingly known and loved in a few years.

Miss America

Mistress America: Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirk

Brooke Cardinas, played by Gerwig in Mistress America, is even more “chaotic” than Francis, and is also characterized by overwhelming insanity and a good dose of self-centeredness. a wacky comedy, to a melancholic reflection on the confusion of an entire generation: it is no coincidence that here Greta portrays a thirty-year-old girl, as devastated as she is charming, defined as “ultimate cowboy, all passion and bad luckFrom Frances to Brooke, passing through eccentric Violet Wister, college diva in Whit Stillman’s delightful Girls in Distress and photographer Abby Porter in Women in my life Mike Mills, the most beautiful roles of Greta Gerwig present us with portraits of stubborn young women, despite their own weaknesses, inspired by the spirit of freedom and independence, chosen as a true philosophy of life; almost to the point of suggesting a hypothetical identification of the actress with a certain type of character.

Barbie: Greta Gerwig, Mattel, and the (Nearly) Impossible Mission

Behind the Camera, Learning to Fly (2017-2023)


Lady Bird: the image of Saoirse Ronan

Another masterpiece yet to be rediscovered, and Greta Gerwig’s most complex and touching interpretation, The Women of My Life also marks a temporary farewell to her career as an actress, interrupted since then only in 2022 for a single occasion: embodying the wife of the main character Adam Driver in White Noise, directed by his partner Noah Baumbach, from the novel by Don DeLillo. Gerwig’s return to the camera dates back to 2017, when she first appeared as a “solo” director: Lady BirdA coming of age in which the autobiographical dimension already present in Baumbach’s films becomes predominant. Christine MacPherson, a restless teenager from Sacramento, enduring the call of art and culture, who calls herself Lady Bird and dreams of quickly breaking out of the family bed, is entrusted with the interpretation of Saoirse Ronan, but the success of the film is helped by the vitalism of Gerwig’s direction and ironic writing, but with crystal clearness.

small woman

Little Women: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet

Unanimously acclaimed since its presentation at the Telluride Film Festival, Lady Bird sets the box office record for distributor A24 (nearly fifty million dollars in North America alone), wins critical acclaim, wins a Golden Globe for best comedy, and wins five Oscar awards. nominations, including Gerwig’s nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay. A plebiscite followed by the appointment of Sony for a project developed by Greta already in previous years: Small woman, a new transposition of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. A transposition that frees Herwig from any risk of literary academicism, on the contrary, bringing energy, modernity and pathos for example, to make his adaptation as faithful as it is incredibly personal and passionate. And this time, the highest level of available means, starting with the cast: Saoirse Ronan is the gorgeous Jo March, but Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern and even Meryl Streep stand out next to her.

barbie movie

Barbie: Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie.

In short, the Christmas 2019 release of Little Women confirms that the phenomenon Lady Bird it was no coincidence, he manages to inspire audiences (two hundred and twenty million worldwide) and win six Oscar nominations, including one for screenplay. Faced with an overtly autobiographical film and a rewrite of one of the key books in Gerwig’s training, a blockbuster like Barbie, which she co-wrote with Baumbach, could certainly seem like a departure from her comfort zones; nonetheless, it is a work in which the need to appeal to a wide and diverse audience is perfectly combined with some of the author’s distinctive features, both at the narrative and thematic level (the search for identity and the struggle for female self-determination) and at the stylistic level. To the delight of those who, in the last decade and regardless of the box office, have never stopped rooting for her and loving her idea of ​​cinema.

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