“I like things that look like mistakes”, reveals Greta Gerwig in her role as Frances Ha in the eponymous 2012 film — the confident-yet-unassuming declaration of a woman who has finally come into her own.
From the earliest talkies to more recent superhero action-fests, women have typically been used as eye-candy. The overarching depiction has been skewed more towards sexy and less towards pretty much everything else. Gerwig and her contemporaries (Stone, Lawrence) represent the slow, but significant, unshackling of women in the industry. And this has consequences that spread way beyond the borders of Hollywood. This new breed of smart, independent, and sometimes weird actors are redefining what it means to be a role model. No longer content to just be pretty faces, Gerwig and others like her are embodying the elusive ideal that being a woman simply means being whoever you already are.
From her slightly clumsy, loping walk on screen to her stream-of-consciousness way of speaking during interviews, Gerwig is unapologetically herself. She casually talks about the “million little things” she dislikes about her appearance and mentions being morbidly curious about the darker side of human emotions. In an industry typically made profitable via the beauty, grace, and poise of its leading ladies, she is an oddity — yet somehow, she embodies her generation. Focusing on their craft and personality, while still being sexy and feminine, these artists are proof that women don’t have to choose between substance and style. Granted, her long list of successes so early in her career gives Gerwig the freedom to behave the way she pleases — but it also sends a very clear message to us commoners: anything is ‘normal’ if you decide it is.
A quick glance at her bio only adds to her mystique. Interested in dance, she wanted to attend NYU to do a degree in musical theater, but ended up graduating from Barnard (also in New York) with a degree in English and philosophy. Toying with the idea of diving into theater, flirting with the idea of becoming a lawyer, and considering being a playwright — an idea promptly discarded after being rejected from MFA playwriting programs — she is the embodiment of millennial anxiety. Gerwig openly worries sometimes that she didn’t just know what she wanted to be from a young age. And who amongst us hasn’t had that sort of existential crisis at least once in our lives? Nonetheless, this multifaceted performer has grown into a force to be reckoned with — she has several movie scripts to her credit, a potentially-award-winning movie she directed, and praise from peers and mentors alike.
With a plethora of feathers in her cap, it’s almost taken for granted that Gerwig also shines on screen. Whether it’s a slightly clumsy, almost immature 26-year-old in Frances Ha or a flighty, somewhat selfish 30-year-old in Mistress America, her performances are relatable. Her characters are flawed, sometimes aimless, and occasionally puzzled — and they survive, while doing it on their own terms.
Why exactly is this significant? How does a single writer-slash-actress make a difference to culture as a whole? One quick YouTube search for Miranda Priestly’s iconic ‘cerulean’ monologue is all you need to answer that question. An actor’s actions may not change the course of your day-to-day life, but a trailblazer inspires copycats and those copycats multiply until it’s the new normal. Take, for example, any recent political hashtag — from BlackLivesMatter to MeToo, and anything in between — it snowballs into a movement before you know it. And that is the true consequence of Gerwig’s refreshing vibe.
But she isn’t some starry-eyed ingenue riding on just her persona— Gerwig is potentially the voice of a generation. Whether it’s her subtlety as a director or the depths of empathy she manages to imbue into her characters, she has the talent to back it up. If that weren’t enough, she also tells stories about women in a way only another woman can. Her delicate approach breathes life into her narratives, exploring the mundane and the mighty with equal aplomb. She has also managed to convince the world that female directors are not just a gimmick anymore — they’re very good for business.
In a world where coloring within the lines is still a prized asset and oddities are still ostracized, Greta Gerwig is a breath of fresh air. A role model for the new generation, she will make it okay for girls and women alike to be proud of who they are, forge their own path, and stand tall. With all her foibles and her unconventional path to stardom, she is living proof that “things that look like mistakes” can sometimes be perfect.