Everything You Need to Know About “Barbie” Director Greta Gerwig

Get ready for the pinkest summer of your life – the live-action “Barbie” movie officially premiered today! But while many people grew up playing with the beloved fashionista doll, the woman behind the camera of the upcoming film may be more of a mystery.

By Jillian Schroeder5 min read

We’ve been tracking the star-studded cast of the Barbie movie since their now-iconic character posters were released, asserting that “Barbie is everything.” In a summer where the ultra-pink film set caused a global shortage of florescent fuchsia paint and Margot Robbie’s stunning, Barbie-inspired outfits are dominating the news, at least one thing is true: Everything seems to be about Barbie. 

Margot Robbie, the film’s star and producer, specifically requested that Greta Gerwig write and direct the project. “And it was the first thing I said to Greta when we first sat down and talked about the movie,” Robbie stated in an interview on the Kelly Clarkson Show, “‘I’ll follow your vision. Whatever you want this Barbie movie to be, let’s do that.’” And after refusing the “terrifying idea” of using CGI over her actors’ feet, it’s clear that Gerwig’s vision involves a refreshing kind of realism. 

To add to the anticipation, Robbie and Gerwig have been dropping hints about where this Barbie is going to take us. In a recent interview, they hinted that Barbie may not be a feminist in the traditional sense of the word, and that even though Ken has no money and no job, the film will give Ken his moment to shine. “In the end of it all, you’re not really thinking about a doll,” say Robbie and her costars, “you’re thinking about what it means to be alive in the world.”

Greta Gerwig, herself an accomplished actress, has a history of writing and directing humorous, deeply thoughtful films that focus on women’s relationships with one another. With films like Frances Ha, Lady Bird, and the most recent adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to her name, Gerwig has the perfect credentials to bring Barbie to life on screen. So if you’ve been waiting as impatiently as I have for July 21, here’s a guide to the woman behind Barbie and some of her best work to date.

This Barbie is a Comedienne: Gerwig the Actress

Before Greta Gerwig became one of the hottest names in the directing world, she was a would-be playwright attending Barnard College. After acting in several independent films, Gerwig hit her big break as an actress in her second collaboration with director Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha

Gerwig plays the charming but hapless Frances, a 27 year old whose best friend Sophie is growing up and moving on. Everybody else seems to have their lives figured out, but Frances isn’t even sure where next month’s rent is going to come from. Gerwig’s performance was greeted with rave reviews, eventually leading to a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. 

Gerwig has collaborated with Noah Baumbach on numerous projects, including Mistress America and Greenberg, as both his muse and co-writer. Many of these early films depict young women living as the “liberated woman” whose life is full of casual sex and a sense of loneliness that she just can’t seem to shake. It’s a bleak picture of “modern love,” which, though difficult to watch at times, illustrates the emptiness that this lifestyle creates.

Gerwig spends most of her time writing and directing now, but she still makes time to use her acting talent for the right projects. Most recently, she starred with Adam Driver in Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, a searing dark comedy about a family who is trying to survive a global catastrophe and pandemic that deliberately pokes fun at the artificial food we eat and news we read. 

white noise greta gerwig

This Barbie Is Totally a Director Too: Lady Bird and Little Women

In 2017, Gerwig shifted her career focus from acting to directing in her debut film Lady Bird, which she also wrote. Starring Saoirse Ronan in her third Oscar-nominated performance, Lady Bird follows an artistically inclined high school senior who struggles to fit into her life in Northern California. While it was inspired by Gerwig’s own experiences growing up in Sacramento, she has stated clearly that the film is not an exact autobiography.

lady bird fair use
A24/Lady Bird/2017

Gerwig has described the film as a love story between a daughter and her mother. While Christine – “Lady Bird” as she prefers to be called – and her mother butt heads, there is a deeply-felt love that undergirds all of their fights and tussles. Unlike many other coming-of-age stories, Lady Bird reminds us how often our youthful dreams are shaped by the sacrifices of our parents, and that to live different kinds of lives from our parents is not the same as living a life set apart from them. Lady Bird has a broader perspective because it acknowledges that “one person’s coming-of-age is another person’s letting-go.”

lady bird hug

Gerwig’s next film, and in my opinion her finest, is her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women. Adapting Little Women was a momentous task to Gerwig, who refers to the novel as a “sacred text.” Unlike previous film adaptations, Gerwig chose not to strictly follow the chronology of the book, instead telling the earlier half of the novel as flashback throughout the film. This emphasizes Jo’s (Saoirse Ronan) nostalgic feelings for her youth (a prominent theme in the book) and allows the film's moments of joy and sadness to pack a bigger punch.

little women four sisters

This method also allows Gerwig to include some aspects of Alcott’s own life into the film’s ambiguous ending, the ultimate Easter egg for any true Alcott lover. This version of Jo March doesn’t just have one ending – she gets two. Jo gets her moment of joy under the umbrella with her professor, but she also gets a more somber ending. In these alternate scenes we see Jo as Louisa May Alcott, by whom the tomboy heroine was inspired. This version of Jo watches the creation of her novel with a sense of pride, but also with a bittersweet knowledge of the lonely life she has chosen. 

Gerwig’s Little Women also has a distinctive approach to the character of Amy (Florence Pugh). “She and Jo have the biggest, brightest, craziest ambition,” Gerwig is quoted as saying in the film’s Official Companion Book. “[Amy] even has a line in the book, ‘The world is hard on ambitious girls.’ Often, Amy is played as being a bit prissy, and she’s anything but. She’s a monster. She wants to be the best artist in the world. That part of Amy is Jo.” Gerwig’s vision of Little Women is not just a celebration of different kinds of women – it’s a celebration of the relationships those women can build with each other.

little women amy

This Barbie Understands Women: Gerwig and the Woman’s Monologue

The trademark of any Gerwig film is a woman’s monologue in which the female lead expresses some of the deepest desires, and fears, of a woman’s heart. I’m willing to bet that Barbie is going to have her moment, so I recommend rewatching some of the best monologues to date.

In Frances Ha, which Gerwig co-wrote, this monologue is delivered by her own character in a moment of sadness at a dinner party. Frances has realized that she doesn’t belong at the party – and that really, she doesn’t have any place she does belong. The moment is sad, but it captures a woman’s deep desire to have committed relationships in a constantly shifting world.

Lady Bird echoes and expands on the same sentiments. In this clip, Lady Bird – or Christine, as she calls herself for the first time – realizes that she does have that kind of unbreakable, committed love with her mother, and the film visually cues us into the ways that Christine is beginning to identify with her mother. Gerwig is right – it’s a moment that will always make you cry and call your mom. 

Because Little Women is about women and their journey to maturation, it’s full to the brim of these moments of feminine insight. But if we had to pick just one monologue, it would be when Ronan’s Jo confesses her loneliness to Marmee. In a superb performance, Ronan expresses both Jo’s drive to achieve something great and the desolation of the solitude which that ambition has brought her. It’s one of the finest expressions of a woman’s desire to create and to be loved in all of cinema.

This Barbie Is Going Places: What’s Next for Greta Gerwig

Barbie may have just premiered today, but Greta Gerwig has already got a slate of new projects on the horizon. For starters, she’s already written the script for the new live-action Snow White adaptation which will star Rachel Ziegler and Gal Gadot. The film is in post-production and is set to be released in 2024.

And from the looks of it, Gerwig will be making an extended stay in the world of fantasy adaptations. Last week, it was reported that Gerwig will direct at least two films for Netflix’s upcoming Chronicles of Narnia adaptations. The news has sparked internet debate that is already building anticipation as we wait to find out more details about the project.

The most important thing that comes next for Gerwig, however, is continuing her life as a mom. Gerwig has already highlighted the importance of motherhood when she posed on the cover of Vogue magazine in 2020 with her first child with partner Noah Baumbach. Late last year, Gerwig announced that she and Baumbach were expecting their second child

Closing Thoughts

Barbie may be everything, but writer/director Greta Gerwig will be an important part of showing that to the world. Gerwig has a history of writing thoughtful stories about the nature of womanhood, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for her.

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