Clips From Greta Gerwig Movies In Descending Order Of Mainstreamness

Oh, Greta Gerwig. The Helen of Troy of Mumblecore; the face that launched a thousand Kickstarter campaigns.

The actress has definitely paid her dues, appearing in more tiny, indie, topless-role-having flicks than most other young actresses. Now, with the upcoming release of Lola Versus, she’s getting the chance to hold a film all on her own.

It’s not without precedent. Gerwig had high billing on the recent Whit Stillman snooze Damsels in Distress and did time in Greenberg, the Ben Stiller vehicle directed by Gerwig’s now-boyfriend Noah Baumbach, and the Ashton Kutcher sex romp No Strings Attached.

On the eve of Lola Versus’ release (and a clip from the movie, watchable but not embeddable here), we look back at Gerwig’s career in film, from the biggest budget to, well, what made her a name in the first place.

Lola Versus.

To Rome With Love.

Damsels In Distress

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No Strings Attached.


Greenberg.

Nights & Weekends.

Baghead.

Hannah Takes The Stairs.

Two for the Road

Take the intergenerational friendship of Rushmore, the unchecked adolescent mischief of KIDS, and the romantic yearning of any dozen teen movies, and you get The Wackness. Almost. The Wackness is greater than the sum of its parts, a genuinely thoughtful, infectiously charming, coming-of-age gem that might be more aptly called (to use its own dated urban patois): The Dopeness. New York City, Summer 1994. Luke (Josh Peck) deals weed. He’s an Upper East Side kid with Brooklyn sensibilities: hates his much-more-affluent schoolmates, loves Biggie Smalls. His only agenda for summer is to work, visit his shrink/client/friend Dr. Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley), and hopefully score with Squires’s too-cool stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby).

Surprisingly, it’s his friendship with the middle-aged Squires that proves the warm, dynamic center of the film. Few movies dare this kind of relationship, though here writer/director Jonathan Levine makes it look easy. Luke has no friends and a disinterested father. Kingsley’s psychiatrist is a pill-popping, mercurial Peter Pan who recognizes Luke as kindred: They’re both romantically unfulfilled, immature, and (technically) drug dealers.

The two begin chasing women together, but the doctor discourages Luke’s growing affinity for his stepdaughter, suspecting she’ll use him. Undeterred, Luke moves forward, and gets predictably twisted around by first romance.

The Wackness’s strength is its detailed characterization, and Luke is easily the most credible screen-teen to appear in ages. His studied, wisenheimer surface-cool belies an authentic romanticism and vulnerability. Before expressing his feelings to Stephanie, he rehearses lines, vacillating between “I love you” and “I got mad love for you shorty, that’s on the reals!” When he’s frustrated by her put-off reaction, we get Luke’s POV with a permanently raised middle finger in the center of the frame. It’s a simple, but ingeniously successful device.

Levine also succeeds in mirroring Luke’s shifting emotional tides with a Manhattan that is itself transforming. The year 1994 marked Rudy Guiliani’s first year as mayor, and his relentless enforcement of “quality-of-life” laws was rapidly changing the city’s character. Levine, who grew up in New York, clearly pines for the old, un-policed freedom of the pre-Guiliani era, and The Wackness is shot through with a wistful, elegiac tone that is as much about his lost city as it is Luke’s lost innocence.

On the opposite end of the tonal spectrum is the latest work from the Duplass Brothers, Baghead, a film which contrasts the vulgar present with The Wackness’s honeyed past. The story: Four struggling, delusional actors repair to a secluded cabin in the woods hoping to generate a high concept screenplay in which they plan on starring. “Before we go to sleep, we’ll all come up with the plot!” one moronically ventures.

Wholly unimaginative, they concoct a slasher premise involving the eponymous masked killer. But before they can write the first scene, life quickly (and blandly) imitates art, and the group find themselves being stalked by a real, knife-wielding “Baghead.”

The Duplass Brothers know this is trite material. That the scared-kids-in-the-woods scenario is the most shopworn of micro-budget ideas is presumably why they chose it. But given this, one rightly expects a meta-film of sorts, a send-up or deconstruction. No such unpacking is attempted. Instead, Baghead relies on a lot of the standard “Gotcha!” tropes used in every Friday the 13th installment. That the end is not entirely predictable might be vindicating if it weren’t such a radical disappointment.

None of this speaks well for “Mumblecore,” the loose cinematic movement that emphasizes low-wattage performances, thin plotlines, and lots of hand-held camera work. The Duplass’s first feature, The Puffy Chair, fairly apotheosized the style, and was an effective, if grating, portrait of late-twenties anxiety. Here, the brothers move into more recognizable genre territory, and fare much worse. The aesthetic looks cheap and mercenary, without the justifying conceit of a film like The Blair Witch Project, which is a distant cousin. By the film’s end, it’s difficult not to think of its desperate, scheming subjects as stand-ins for the filmmakers themselves.

It’s Baghead, Dude

Call it what you want: “bedhead cinema,” “Slackavettes,” or, its most widespread name, “Mumblecore.” There’s some DIY dudes carving their own little nook in the independent cinema landscape, making films that the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman describes as being, “by, for, and about twentysomethings.” Baghead is one such film. After collecting accolades at Sundance and Tribeca, it’s ready to charm recent grads with characters who stutter and say “dude” in an affectionate, East Coast way.

The Duplass brothers came up with the idea for this movie while they were shooting their last film, the endearing road trip dramedy (hate to use that term but you got a better one?) The Puffy Chair. When someone on the crew asked, “What’s the scariest thing you can think of?” someone responded, “A guy with a bag on his head staring at you through the window.” When we get a flash of inspiration, however, we get real excited, blab to some friends about it, and then let sleep smudge it out. So congrats to the Duplass brothers for following through and making a feature film out of it. I guess that’s why they’re making films, and we’re writing about them. Check out the trailer here. [Ed. note: Pick up our next June/July double issue when it hits stands. We hated this movie.]