Maybe we're all characters living in a world directed by Greta Gerwig
My biggest red flag as a Communication Arts graduate is the fact that I’m not a cinephile. Given my short attention span, it’s rare for me to reach for movies to pass my time. Movies, or should I say, films, are singular sit-down experiences that end as soon as the credits roll. Anime or K-drama series, on the other hand, strap you in. You’re magnetized to the screen, baited by cliffhanger after cliffhanger to draw you into the next episode. But aren’t K-dramas nearly as long as movies? Technically yes, if you watch more than one. But the thing about me is that I would rather watch something short, or spend a whole weekend engulfing myself in it. There is no in-between.
Side note: Before you think I hate movies, I don’t. In fact, I want to love them so badly.
But with everything, I have my exceptions, and Greta Gerwig is one of them. I’ve watched most of her filmography as a director (not as a writer): Ladybird (2017), Little Women (2019) and Barbie (2023). I have yet to watch her directorial debut film, Nights and Weekends (2008), which she co-directed with Joe Swanberg.
That’s it? I thought. Perhaps Greta Gerwig is a genius, after all.
RELATED: Come On, Watch “Barbie”
Out of her four films, her solo directorial debut Lady Bird had five Oscar nominations, and Little Women had six. They have a 99% and a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively. Gerwig has made a name for herself as an auteur, a title mostly attributed to male directors like Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan, who also released films this year.
The French term “auteur” means “author,” which corresponds to a director whose style and approach are so distinct and authoritative throughout their work that they get credited as the author of the film, despite the production process consisting of a multitude of people. It’s when your name becomes synonymous with your signature style. The Wes Anderson TikTok trend is one example. His unmistakable visual storytelling has had people on the app scrambling to make their own short-form versions adapted to his style.
With Gerwig, what shines in her films is her authentic portrayal of girlhood and its emotional rawness. Saoirse Ronan, Gerwig’s muse, is our mirror in Ladybird as she cries out, “What if this is the best version?” in the dressing room, begging for her mom’s recognition.
As Jo March in Little Women, Ronan's words pierced through my heart as someone who kept up with the “strong independent woman” facade in my singlehood. She laments, “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they've got ambition, and they've got talent, as well as just beauty. I'm so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I'm so sick of it. But I’m so lonely!” Leave it to Greta Gerwig to beautifully memorialize what it’s like to experience girlhood.
at the end of the day i'm just a character directed by greta gerwig pic.twitter.com/Nv1AMrdiet
— val (@lalalandism) June 23, 2023
A technique Gerwig uses to beautifully capture emotion is her keen attention not to language, but to how its utilized. She has often eavesdropped conversations and transcribed them in order to analyze them properly. During a panel interview for Film Independent’s Directors Close-Up series, she reveals: “I do spend a lot of time listening to people. I’m always interested in the limits of language, in how people always use words to not say what they mean. People constantly use language to avoid saying the things that are true.”
But perhaps the reason why her characters are so established is because she's an actress herself—with over 15 years of experience. She puts her actors in the spotlight, closely working with them to perform their roles like extensions of their personalities. For Ladybird, she brought the cast to her New York apartment and showed them a shoe box containing her high school memorabilia, cementing her vision for the characters. For Barbie, they held themed sleepovers to kick off their filming and movie screenings to give the cast and crew inspiration.
As a fellow sentimental soul, creating has always been tied to looking inward and backward to the memories that made me. Gerwig makes her films so painfully human by incorporating autobiographical elements into her films. Her stories navigate the gray area of relationships and life, just as things are in reality. There is no protagonist or villain, only humans who love each other and make mistakes. EDGE Magazine said it best: “Gerwig specializes in examining the ways in which we love and loathe our families.”
Naturally, the Barbie adaptation is far from Gerwig’s signature quiet and domestic settings filled with the beauty of the mundane. We have Barbie’s signature color to make that clear. But it’s perfectly fitting that she should direct the movie about a doll that defined an era of girlhood. How will she make the aspirational plastic figure into a character we can relate to?
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY GRETA GERWIG ❤️🩹🎞 pic.twitter.com/ndMfSLDX2V
— kay saw barbenheimer (@mjcooke) July 18, 2023
As a self-taught multi-hyphenate in the film industry, Greta Gerwig has taken the world by storm and artfully demonstrated what it’s like to be feminine, to be a girl coming of age, to be a woman.
Words Gwyneth King
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver