Greta Gerwig kept pausing, sometimes mid-sentence. It was a Monday night in early November, and her newest movie, wherein Gerwig’s title character sprints down a Chinatown street. (“I’m interested in women in motion,” Gerwig said. “Of course I am.”) Another two hours pass, and after gracefully hopscotching across timelines, the film concludes with a shot of Jo’s face in that same office. No matter the financial and emotional trials that intervened, she has won the match.
“I wanted it to be a palindrome,” Gerwig explained. “I wanted it to read backwards and forwards, so the movie starts on her back and ends on her face so that you could start the movie again from the beginning. It’s a circle.”
That quote alone defines the Gerwig who has blossomed over the course of the 2010s: literary, analytical, witty. When Little Women was announced last summer, I thought it came from left field. After penning so much original material that feels indebted to Gerwig’s own life, why do a remake? But in seeing the movie and hearing her talk about it, any doubts evaporate. It’s more revelation than remake, the work of an artist bold enough to refashion something that never went out of fashion.
Further confirming the serendipity of this moment in Gerwig’s career, she gets to cruise the awards circuit with Baumbach, who is hawking the biggest work of his career, Marriage Story. In a post-Sofia-Coppola-and-Spike-Jonze universe, Gerwig and Baumbach are Hollywood’s primo director couple. (The pair recently gained competition in Barry Jenkins and Lulu Wang, who helmed Moonlight and The Farewell, respectively.) They swap notes while working and attend red carpets together, which they’ll do a lot of over the next few months.
When Gerwig returned home for Thanksgiving last year, she was still shooting Little Women. The next day, she went to Baumbach’s editing suite to see his first cut of Marriage Story, a divorce drama in the vein of Kramer vs. Kramer and Scenes from a Marriage. (Fun fact: Little Women and Marriage Story share a supporting actor in Laura Dern, who is fantastic in both.) What’s it like, I wondered, to watch the breakup movie your boyfriend just finished?
Gerwig demurred, savvy enough not to take the bait. She and Baumbach had a child earlier this year, but they’ve managed to remain fairly private about their personal lives. “I just cried for two and a half hours, and I came out and I was completely dehydrated,” she said of Baumbach’s film. “I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, Noah.’ He was like, ‘Should we have more stuffing?’”
As Gerwig and I wrapped up our conversation, she went back to listening for the reel changes. Exiting the greenroom together, I started to head for the lobby when she turned and suggested we step into the auditorium to see how much better her film looks on film than in digital transfer, which is how most of the public will see it. We stood in the back, watching a touching scene in which a neighbour (Chris Cooper) grants musically inclined Beth March (Eliza Scanlen) access to the piano at his home. Whispering, Gerwig pointed out how crisp the colours looked without the silky glaze that accompanies digitalisation. The trees were greener, the roads more textured. It looked like a postcard. Or, in her words, “a snow globe.” She stood there smiling, revelling in the beauty she’d conjured.
“That’s just my taste,” she said.
Then Gerwig bid me farewell and slid out the door — a woman in motion.
Little Women is in cinemas now.