While you weren’t paying attention, the powers that be have crowned a new Indie It Girl. What’s that you say? Chloe Sevigny? Sorry, dethroned. An appearance in a Sonic Youth video, and outstanding performances in Kids (1995), Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Big Love (2006-2011) don’t mean anything anymore. What’s this now? Parker Posey? She was great in Dazed and Confused (1993), and half a dozen Christopher Guest movies, but we won’t be needing her anymore: we have a new alliteratively named It Girl. Meet Greta Gerwig.
Greta Gerwig is having a crisis. She’s not in college anymore, and she needs to get her shit together. Or, she’s 25 years old, and she needs to get her shit together. Or, she just turned 30, and she needs to get her shit together. Greta Gerwig isn’t here to bake you a cupcake and solve your problems (though she might end up doing that), she has her own issues to deal with. She’s no Manic Pixie Dream Girl, sprinkling glitter out her butt. She’s the approachable one with the disheveled hair, always five minutes late to group therapy. At first you are enchanted by her, pulled into her vortex of disorder, but by the end of the movie you are ready to move on, stronger for having encountered her.
She is a therapy llama.
A few years back, director Noah Baumbach and Gerwig co-wrote the script for Frances Ha (2012), in which Gerwig was having a quarter-life crisis and needed to get her shit together. This year, the duo have released Mistress America (2015) , in which Gerwig is having her turning-30 crisis and is trying to get her shit together. Gerwig plays muse/therapy llama to a Barnard freshman played by Lola Kirke. Unhappy at school, Kirke is initially dazzled by Gerwig’s madcap charm, but soon realizes that Gerwig is not so much fun-crazy, but more crazy-crazy.
The film starts off slow, and not that well: Lola Kirke seems way too self-possessed to be playing a mousy college freshman, and her resemblance to sister Jemima Kirke (from Girls) is just distracting. The Big Fun in the City sequence is so hack that it feels like a parody, but Baumbach doesn’t play it that way. Just when it feels like all is lost, the film comes alive during a road-trip up to Connecticut. All the outstanding minor characters take over, and for a while the movie works. Of course it doesn’t last, and the leads return to New York for a predictable denouement.
Rather than shell out the big money to see Mistress America, you could just Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime one of her other movies, in no particular order:
- The Dish & The Spoon (2011) – Gerwig is having an infidelity crisis, and is muse/therapy llama to Olly Alexander. On paper this road trip movie sounds like every film at every film festival in the world, but director Alison Bagnall makes it work. Gerwig at her darkest.
- Frances Ha (2012) – Quintessential slacker/mumblecore/Gerwig movie, somehow already made it into the Criterion Collection (?!). Gerwig is having a breakup-with-roommate crisis and wanders around in black and white while she tries to get her shit together. Sting’s daughter plays the roommate. Meryl Streep’s daughter plays the rival. Hannah’s boyfriend from Girls is in this too.
- The Humbling (2014) – Gerwig plays the lesbian thespian who falls in love with age-and-gender-inappropriate Al Pacino, who is having an Alzheimer crisis. The movie is mostly a snooze, but there’s some funny bits presumably from Buck Henry, who co-wrote the script.
- Damsels in Distress (2011) – In this odd Whit Stillman fairy tale, Gerwig plays the leader of a Mean Girls gang out to whip college students into proper Stepford Wives shape. Analeigh Tipton steals the movie, along with Aubrey Plaza. Only interesting in the Greta Gerwig oeuvre as an origin story for the (Whit Stillman trademarked) grammatically perfect manner of speech Gerwig employed in Mistress America. Also witness the birth of the dance sensation “The Sambola.”
- Greenberg (2010) Ben Stiller is playing Steve Carell’s character from Little Miss Sunshine (2006) – the post-breakdown crisis dude just trying to maintain. Into his life falls Greta Gerwig, who has issues of her own, but yadda yadda yadda, awkward sex, the end. Good performance from Gerwig, and finally, FINALLY, Ben Stiller isn’t doing his Guy that Gets Very Frustrated schtick.
So that’s the new Indie It Girl in a nutshell. She hasn’t demonstrated the range of Chloe Sevigny, or the wit of Parker Posey, but she’s young(ish), and there’s still time for her to overcome this casting crisis and get her shit together.