Greta the Great
(Hi, the Academy is a joke and not hella tight at ALL.) I raise your Marvel and DC cinematic universes and introduce you to the Greta Gerwig Cinematic Universe™️. An idea that I did not personally use those words to describe, but an idea that's been circling around in my head since my first viewing of Lady Bird.
The films are as follows:
The order of the films released is actually the opposite of how I just listed them. Frances was first, then Mistress, and finally Lady Bird last last year. The first time I heard of Greta Gerwig was when I was visiting my parents on a holiday from college and I was up late browsing their on demand channels. Mistress America popped up and it sounded like the kind of indie movie I would love. Little did I know that it would hit me like a freight train.
The story's about Tracy, who moves to New York to go to college. Her dream is to be a writer and she's having a hard time figuring out where exactly her place is in New York. It's a huge city and she feels very small. Her mother recommends calling her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke.
Brooke is the embodiment of New York City. She lives in Times Square because when she got off the bus, she thought that's where all the cool people lived. She's "the last cowboy, all romance and failure." Gerwig may not have the sole writing credit on the film, but I would bet everything that line was hers.
Frances Ha is the story of a woman in New York City trying to make it into the dance company she teaches for. Its style is very similar to Lady Bird in that we don't see every single day of Frances' life, but we see little vignettes that add up to her life. We see her bounce from apartment to apartment and lose her best friend to her new fiancé.
Gerwig shares a writing credit on Frances and Mistress and stars in both. Lady is all her own. Written and directed by her. It's the only one she doesn't star in. Having now seen Lady, it is so clear that so much of Frances and Mistress came from Gerwig.
At their hearts, they're each about love stories that rarely get shown in pop culture. Lady is about a mother and daughter, Frances is between two best friends, and Mistress is about stepsisters. They're also movies that are deeply embedded in their place. Frances and Mistress HAVE to take place in New York City and Lady HAS to take place in Sacramento.
They're also about women falling in love with themselves, which is something not a lot of movies focus on. Lady Bird, Frances, and Tracy are by no means perfect, but the thing that unites them all is that they're trying. Lady Bird is eighteen, Tracy is a college freshman, and Frances is twenty-seven. Ages where it feels like they should know who they are, but they're still figuring it out. All of them are very unashamedly searching for what they want. We see Lady Bird fearlessly go after the boys she likes, Tracy goes after her writing dream (but remains indecisive about the right pasta), and Frances goes after being in the dance company. All of them stumble and all of them triumph in their own way. All of them are embarrassed they're not real people yet and that's okay. None of us are.
All of these movies tug on my heart because they're so specific and honest. I think when you're able to hone in on personal feelings so intensely, you end up creating something that's universal. Again, Gerwig only shares writing credits on Mistress, but I'm willing to bet all the money in the world she's responsible for this:
I think I'm sick, and I don't know if my ailment has a name. It's just me sitting and staring at the internet or the television for long periods of time, interspersed by trying to not do that and then lying about what I've been doing. And then I'll get so excited about something that the excitement overwhelms me and I can't sleep or do anything and I just am in love with everything but can't figure out how to make myself work in the world.
That feeling is so specific, and as soon as she said those words, it was like something clicked in my brain. That was how I felt then and how I feel sometimes now. There are all of these really great things I'm sure I could be doing and I'm ready to do them, but it's so easy to lose myself in feeling like there's not enough time in the day. You push your dreams to tomorrow and always tomorrow and then before you know it, you don't have anymore tomorrows. I am in love with everything and sometimes the fear of figuring out my place in all of this feels insurmountable.
Just for fun and because I have no self-control, I'm going to share with you my favorite quote from Frances Ha. It shows exactly what I mean about creating something so specific that it becomes universal. Just like the quote from Mistress, Frances has this moment where something very personal and in-character is said, but something that is like a freight train to the heart. Again, I'm willing to bet the credit belongs to Gerwig:
It's that thing when you're with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it... but it's a party... and you're both talking to other people, and you're laughing and shining... and you look across the room and catch each other's eyes... but - but not because you're possessive, or it's precisely sexual... but because... that is your person in this life. And it's funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it's this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It's sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don't have the ability to perceive them. That's - That's what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.
One thing about her writing/directing process that I found fascinating is that so little of it is improv. And by so little, I mean none of it. Her writing is so strong that everything that needs to be said is already on the page. That only adds to her honesty because she understands who her characters are on a fundamental level.
I was reading the script to Lady Bird last night and it was absolutely magical. Only a few small things changed, but it's all there. Here's Greta describing one of my favorite moments in the film:
Marion drives back home. It is romantic somehow. She loves these streets, loves the turns she knows so well. When she’s not resenting the stuck-ness of her own life she has an enormous capacity to love it. Remember this moment with Marion.
I'm not sure this blog post adequately describes the love I feel for all three of these movies. They've come into my life at very specific times, but I wrote this post-Oscars while re-watching Frances Ha for the third time in five days. To steal Lady Bird's last lines, thank you. Some of the winners from last night will fade into obscurity, but Lady Bird won't. This is the type of movie that our kids will watch and their kids will watch and their kids will watch too. The technology and the look of the world will change, but the love that courses through that movie won't. It's a movie built on love, and unless there's a day where there's no more love in the world, Lady Bird will always ring true.
Make America Greta Always