Q&A: 'Frances Ha' star Greta Gerwig

May 22, 2013|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

Yes, the title character of “Frances Ha” is a New York woman in her 20s struggling with her professional life and the romantic and platonic tiers of her personal life. Still, don’t ask Greta Gerwig, who plays Frances and co-wrote the film with director and Gerwig’s reported boyfriend Noah Baumbach (“Greenberg”), how Frances would interact with the girls on “Girls.” She doesn’t see an overlap.

“[‘Girls’ deals] with a slightly earlier moment of life, but for me I just feel like films and television exist in their own universes and they have their own rules,” says the 29-year-old Sacramento native by phone while walking to her New York apartment. “I love ‘Girls’ and I think Lena’s a genius, but I don’t see the ability to place a character. [Laughs] … Frances only exists in this movie, and this is the only thing that we’ll ever see of her.”

Perhaps it’s a testament to the specificity of the characters, despite their universal experiences. In “Frances Ha,” opening Friday, 27-year-old Frances is familiar but unique, hoping her apprenticeship at a dance company will finally turn into a steady gig while wishing the dynamic with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter) could stay the way it was in college--when they were inseparable and didn’t have to worry as much about being on different trajectories.

Speaking of trajectories: Gerwig (“Damsels in Distress,” “Arthur”) made the miniscule "LOL" and "Hannah Takes the Stairs" while living in Logan Square in 2006.  With another likable, deceptively complex performance in "Frances Ha," she continues to chart upwards.

“Frances Ha” is a perceptive vision of people in their 20s. What’s something you think people in that stage of life don’t get enough credit for and something they deserve to be taken to task for?

I think that people in their 20s actually aren’t given enough credit for their ambition. I think people see [them as] ... directionless or somehow lacking in ambition, and I don’t think that’s true at all. I feel like most of the people I know are incredibly ambitious, as is the character of Frances. It’s just not necessarily working out for them, which is different than not having ambition at all. And I think they need to be taken to task for how entitled they feel. ... I think that’s kind of a sad psychological state to be in because the universe doesn’t owe us anything.

How new do you think that is? A lot of people think that entitlement has come along with the Millennial generation.

There’s still this Wild West idea of getting rich quick or having everything being solved very quickly by a job or a pill or getting famous. And I don’t think there’s a lot of built-in reward or examples of persistence. Sometimes also the current generation absorbs the criticisms of the culture as a whole. It’s just that the young people take the brunt of it because they seem to be the ones that aren’t bringing it. [Laughs] I don’t think that’s necessarily true; I think we’re living through a moment where there’s a lot of instantaneous gratification. I think that that holds true for people in their 60s as well as for younger people.

So we can blame Mark Zuckerberg and move on.

Yeah, we can just blame Google and Zuckerberg. No, I don’t know. [Laughs] I totally sympathize with it. Working is not instantly rewarding. It’s a long process, and it’s much easier to just feed whatever dopamine cycles exist in your brain in instant gratification ways. I get it; I do it. [Laughs] I’m not above it. I think it’s a general malaise.

The movie taps into the challenge of figuring out friendships as they develop in your 20s. How much did you relate to those struggles?

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