Of course Greta Gerwig and Lena Dunham are BFFs. Why wouldn't the two clarion voices of their generation's gender be a duet? • Gerwig is the co-writer and star of Frances Ha, playing a charming, 20-something underachiever who'd fit easily with Dunham's Girls on HBO. Each of them and the characters they portray are vital to the zeitgeist, models of new roles for women in reality and art imitating it. • Yet Gerwig, 29, and Dunham, 27, are reluctant revolutionaries, not necessarily taking the lead — there are other drum majors sharing the baton — but hoping people keep falling in step behind.
"We don't overly theorize what we're doing or what the impact of what we're doing is," Gerwig recently said by telephone from New York. "It's really just about trying to make these pieces that are true to us and true to what we want to see and where we want to push our art in different directions.
"Sometimes when you're in the process of making something you're less aware of how it resonates beyond the making of it. In a way, being too aware of the impact can almost kill the creative impulses. It can for me, anyway."
Frances Ha is a good example of Gerwig's passively influential style, co-written with her director and boyfriend, Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). Frances Halladay — the abbreviation of her name is explained in the movie's final shot — is a quirky free spirit as easy to hang around as to become frustrated with. She wants to be a dancer but isn't that graceful. She wants to be in love but constantly reminds guys she's "undate-able." Her only consistency is affection for her friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), and that becomes suffocating. Frances is a beautiful mess who gets tidier when she starts acting her age.
"One of the things we were trying to do with Frances was to show how romantic and triumphant and heroic just taking a day job can be," Gerwig said. "How there's a certain practicality to (becoming) an artist that doesn't involve winning American Idol. The journey of living on your own terms and working toward something, without the expectation that it will always be handed to you."
Not that she's entirely aiming blame at her Gen Y contemporaries for having those entitled feelings.
"Sometimes the younger generation absorbs the criticism of the entire culture, because it's easy ... when in reality it's a broad-based cultural malaise," Gerwig said. "We have a lot of problems with instant gratification and this big swing between incredible success and incredible downfalls."
It's a cultural conundrum that Gerwig realizes will require voices from more than one generation to address. Luckily, she has others besides Dunham forming a chorus.
"It feels like we're living through this moment that's kind of never really been seen before, with the number of women who are authors, so many voices," Gerwig said, name-checking Mindy Kaling, Diablo Cody and Liz Meriwether among her difference-making friends, then Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig and Brit Marling among those who could be, if she had the chance.
"It's cool because if we don't all know each other we're just one degree away from each other," Gerwig said. "It helps to have compatriots because it was kind of bleak in that arena for so long. It's really heartening."
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.