What’s Eating Greta Gerwig?


Greta Gerwig co-writes and stars in Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha”

As Oscar season gets ready to jump into high gear, contenders will rise and fall by the wayside as Telluride wraps up, Venice is underway, and Toronto is about to explode onto the scene.

One young talent I’ve kept a close eye on since early March is Greta Gerwig.  The 29-year-old actress has been quietly on the scene for a while and has managed to appear in four films that have been released or are scheduled in 2012.  Not to mention, she has a co-writing credit with Noah Baumbach in his upcoming Frances Ha.

Gregory Ellwood of HitFix says in his review:

“Gerwig is simply superb as Frances. As in “Greenberg,” Baumbach brings out an emotional side of the actress that other director’s haven’t attempted to find.  It helps that she knows the material so intimately, but her performance as Frances may be her best and most three-dimensional to date. Unlike her work earlier this year in “Damsels in Distress” or “Lola Versus,” Frances is a real character you can reach out and touch. Because of the comedic aspect of much of the picture Gerwig may not get the credit she deserves here. Let’s hope that’s not the case.”

Greta Gerwig in “Damsels in Distress”

Gerwig has had roles in Woody Allen’s To Rome, with Love with an all-star cast that included Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, and Allen himself.  The film received mixed-to-negative reviews with no real mention of Gerwig herself.  She also spearheaded the underwhelming Lola Versus by writer/director Daryl Wein, which was met with a poor reception but a high praise for her work.  She also received positive notices in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress with Adam Brody where the film landed with a solid 75% on Rotten Tomatoes and considered by many a dark horse for some Golden Globe and Screenplay attention.  Baumbach’s Frances Ha, which just had its début at Telluride, was met with upbeat mentions for the film and the writing credits for Baumbach and Gerwig.  More importantly, Gerwig’s performance has been regarded as her best portrayal yet along with single mentions for co-star Adam Driver.

This Gerwig phenomenon that seems to be forming reminds me of Jessica Chastain and her inception into our awards world last year.  Chastain had delivered in several roles like The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and her Oscar-nominated work in The Help.  Granted, Chastain’s films were much more high-profile then Gerwig’s have been this year and with more acclaim.  It also helped that Chastain had two of her films nominated for Best Picture.  Damsels in Distress and possibly Frances Ha will be fighting hard for mere mentions in a weak Original Screenplay field.  Not sure if anyone is throwing around legitimate Picture prospects for either.   Though what seems like category fraud and the fact that it’s a hard-sell comedy, could Gerwig find herself in a Supporting Actress lineup to reward a killer breakthrough year?  It hasn’t been unheard of.  Joaquin Phoenix had a similar inception in 2001 when he starred in not only the Best Picture winner, Gladiator (2000) but great supporting turns in Quills (2000) and The Yards (2000).  And I’ll always quote the scenario of Philip Seymour Hoffman being nominated for Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) when everyone was in agreement his work in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) and Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages (2007) were far superior.  You could even make an argument for Tommy Lee Jones inclusion in the Best Actor lineup for In the Valley of Elah (2007) when he delivered in Joel Coen & Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men.

What all these examples point out is the chink the armor for a successful campaign for Gerwig.  All of those actors were either already highly respected in the industry or had Best Picture frontrunners attached to them.  Gerwig is neither as of yet.  Perhaps a few key critical citations and/or high-profile appearances at an awards show or two could kick-start a feasible campaign for the young artist.  Worst case scenario, a star is born this year.

Gerwig stumbled onto the circuit in indie debuts like Joe Swanberg’s LOL (2006) and Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007).  Her big break was in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg (2010) alongside Ben Stiller in which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Female Lead.  She also had small roles in No Strings Attached (2011) and Arthur (2011).

Lola Versus comes to Blu-Ray and DVD on September 11, 2012.  Damsels in Distress will be released September 25, 2012 in the same format.  Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha will be shown at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival where it will likely be picked up for distribution.