Girls off Film: Why ‘writresses’ are shredding the Hollywood rulebook to pieces.

Cinema has been described as the “director’s medium,” so to speak, but why is it that the word “directress” barely registers in the English language? When Kathryn Bigelow was racking up award after award, why was she not referred to as the “Best Directress”? Well, for one, she was up against four males and was only the fourth female director to be nominated in Oscar history. The same could be applied for fellow “directresses” such as Kelly Reichardt, Lynne Ramsay, Jane Campion, Nicole Holofcener, Andrea Arnold et al (most of whom also write their films) when they’re awarded with the level of acclaim akin to Ms. Bigelow’s. There is, however, a new wave of actresses who are taking Hollywood by surprise. No, they might not be “directresses”, but they are writers (notice that there is no such thing as a “writress”) slash actresses; in an interesting way, you could say they are scribing the roles for exclusively for themselves because there just aren’t enough “meaty” roles for every young actress out there to share. “When you try to begin it’s so hard” actress Brit Marling says. “The parts are so terrible. It’s looking for that break.” Spearheading this new generation of creative talent are Greta Gerwig and the aforementioned Marling, two intrinsically bright and unequivocally talented ladies who write about, not shockingly, women at the centre of their respective films. For Gerwig, she captures the joie de vivre of a young woman trying to grow up in contemporary Brooklyn in Frances Ha (directed and co-written by Noah Baumbach in his best movie to date), and is known by a generation as the reigning queen of mumblecore; Marling, on the other hand, in the space of two years has co-written three screenplays, all of which have given Marling the opportunity to play three very dissimilar characters: first the Sundance hit that first marked Marling’s claim as indie ingénue, Another Year; the charismatic cult leader whose organisation is infiltrated by a young couple in Sound of My Voice; and this year’s The East, in which this time she becomes the infiltrator on a covert mission to track a group of eco-terrorists. Essentially, it is because of Marling’s legitimate writing credentials that she is where she is today and is a now a Sundance favourite. Beyond the superficial ‘indie it girls’ titles, these two actresses could not be more different. Yet they find solace in the fact that the females they have written go beyond the banal archetype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl which has so deplorably plagued Hollywood; these women aren’t supporting the men, and two women are able to talk about anything other than a man for longer than a sound two minutes. Lake Bell has also given a go this year – and quite successfully – in a hark back to the screwball comedies of bygone era in In A World… Unlike Gerwig and Marling, though, Bell is a bonfide quadruple threat: she’s also the director and the producer.

What sets them apart exactly from the rest of young thesps in training, exactly? While they may not have the accessibility of franchise-hogging, awards laden Jennifer Lawrence or English darling Carey Mulligan, or heck, even the aloof sensibility of Rooney Mara, they do have a place in the independent film circuit. In such a short space of time they have left an indelible mark on cinema, and particularly this year they have proved extremely potent. Frances Ha explores twentysomethings in a way that is rarely ever depicted: with great depth and veritable realism. It’s the age where the once young and wild are finally starting to grow up, but the focus is primarily on the titular lead and her inability to do just that, which sends her into a quite a frenzy. It is emotionally resonant, particularly for this generation of disenfranchised young adults. Marling, on contrary, has more of a socio-poltical agenda, particularly in The East, a politically charged yarn about a female ex-FBI agent who infiltrates an eco-terrorist organisation. The film presents a morally ambiguous stance and does not simply determine which side the audience should resonate with more. The audience expects to be coerced into siding with the eco-terrorists along with the film’s protagonist, Sarah, but it’s just not that simple. In fact, Sarah practically represents the audience’s tentativeness as she flounders back and forth. Bell, on the other hand, has always been somewhat present in the films she has starred in, but never fully starred in. Perhaps sick of being overlooked, Bell thought it was time to change everybody’s perception of her as the perpetual sexpot.

But it does not extend as far as these two: starring in perhaps the most critically lauded film of the year, Julie Delpy once again shared a writing credit alongside co-star and on-screen lover-cum-husband Ethan Hawke, and the trilogy’s director, Richard Linklater for Before Midnight; such was also the case with its predecessor, Before Sunset. But that is not the end to Ms. Delpy’s talents behind the camera; in addition to being a writer and actress, she stretched her directorial talents with the Woody Allen-esque comedies 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, as well as a biopic centred on Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Bathory. Similarly with Lena Dunham, before she was met with a plethora of acclaim on HBO’s Girls, posed as a triple threat – as she would subsequently prove on Girls – with the uber-indie flick Tiny Furniture, and was praised for her directorial, writing and acting skills. Even Oscar-winning actresses Helen Hunt and Angelina Jolie once upon a time tested their talents (with less successful results, albeit) – but they clearly liked it because they are both now working on their sophomoric efforts.

So there is obvious historical precedence for multitasking female writers and actresses in Hollywood, but that does not mean what Gerwig and Marling have achieved in the past few years is not refreshing or exciting – if anything it amps up the average cinephile’s excitement concerning the future of females as filmmakers. One can only hope it won’t be soon before they announce their foray into directing in the foreseen future. And just maybe – hopefully – this will not be the last time we hear of the writer/actress.