Greta Gerwig talks about the death of youth in ‘Frances Ha’
Time is something that has always been on Greta Gerwig’s mind. Her new film, “Frances Ha” — in which she stars and she also co-wrote with director Noah Baumbach — deals intimately with the growing pains that hit around age 27, both in terms of friendships and relationships as well as career. And if there’s one lesson Gerwig has learned — and continues to relearn — it’s that you have to stop comparing yourself to others.
This movie deals a lot with what some people might call suspended adolescence.
Yeah, yeah. That’s a thing. I don’t know, it’s probably a combination of cultural factors, but I think being a young man for a very long time meant… a lot of people went into the military. I mean, my grandfather and my great-uncles. And my parents’ generation — it was like if you didn’t go to Vietnam, there had to have been a reason. And then women obviously got married much younger and had children much younger. And now it’s like we don’t have the preponderance of marriage or death, so it’s a different thing.
But I think regardless of whether you have arrested adolescence or suspended adolescence or not, I think there is a passage out of youth that happens around 27 or 28. I was really interested in that. I’m not that interested in youth, I’m interested in the death of youth. (laughs) But I always felt that way, even when I was 21 or 22. I was always kind of interested in the moment when you pass out of it. Or I don’t know, for some reason those moments I always felt them more deeply than I think anybody else does, and I always feel insecure still when I bring them up. Like I remember being at a birthday party for a 17-year-old when I was 23, and I just felt so old. I felt like the oldest person in the world. Because you are, compared to a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old.
Twenty-three to them is like…
It’s like you’re ancient. And then I remember telling people around me that and them kind of saying, “You’re a freak. 33 is young. Why is this bothering you?” And then I had a moment recently at a dinner party with friends who are all like 28, 29, my age. And there was a moment when all of the men were talking in one room and all the women were in the kitchen, and I was like, “This is how you become who you’re going to be. This is how these things start. And one day we’re going to have kids who, like, run into another room.” And everyone’s like, “Why do you memorialize these things as they’re happening?” But I feel like I’ve always had a sense of fatality when it comes to passing through moments, and I think that’s probably something that Noah and I share. (laughs) I don’t know, I’m always aware of the moment passing, in some ways, and that kind of melancholy of enjoying something for the last time. But in “Frances” you don’t even know it’s the last day like that. It’s like you don’t know what the last day of something will be until later and you’re like, “That was the last day.”
Yeah. “I guess that happened.” There’s this book called “The Shadow Line” by Joseph Conrad. It’s about a 27-year-old who goes through these turns of events he becomes a captain of a ship. Basically he comes to realize that, “I’m never going to go back to being a ship’s mate. I’m a captain now. I’m an adult. Everything that’s come before this has passed away, and this is my life.” And the shadow line refers to when you pass through a equatorial line or something and you don’t know until you’re already over it. You never know at the moment that it’s happening. And I thought that was very sad and evocative. And at the end of it it’s all these old sailors sitting around telling stories to each other of their youth, but then you put it together and you’re like, “You guys are all, like, 40. You’re not that old.”
It was old then.
Yeah, it was old then. I don’t know, this is completely different, but with like the Beatles, they had done everything and broken up by the time they were 29. They’d done all of the Beatles by the time they were 29, which is horrifying.
It’s unfair to do an age and accomplishment comparison when it comes to musicians.
It’s always the worst. Unless you’re Leonard Cohen. I mean, this is probably the neurotic in me, but I feel like it’s good to choose something where the people who are best at it tend to be older than you. Because, I don’t know, I want to write and direct, and I feel like you make all your best movies between 30 and 60. Pretty much every director is like that. So, I don’t know, that gives me 30 years. (laughs) You can’t compare yourself to others age-wise because it’s just, like, a losing thing to worry about. I don’t know. One of the reasons that we made Frances a dancer — other than the fact that I love dance and I love dance on film — is that at 27 it’s done. If you’re not doing it, you’re not going to do it.
This is a career with an expiration date.
Right. And there aren’t many that have those expiration dates. So it felt like it was just an appropriate fit metaphorically for everything else that was going on, like with her friendship with Sophie. It’s going to not be this way always.