The actual date when Greta Gerwig was anointed cinema’s Indie It Girl varies, based on who you talk to. For some, it was her title role in Joe Swanberg’s 2007 film Hannah Takes the Stairs; for others (this fan included) it came in the midst of that incredible telephone scene in Greenberg; and latecomers may have just signed on at last year’s Frances Ha. But whatever the case, she’s one of the most widely beloved presences on the independent film landscape, which is why the news of her possible network sitcom gig caused a full-on Movie Nerd Twitter™ meltdown.
The outrage is, on some level, understandable. Gerwig’s not just doing any sitcom; she’s starring in How I Met Your Dad, CBS’s upcoming spin-off of the (excessively) long-running How I Met Your Mother. (Side note: what’s with the more familiar title this time around? CONSISTENCY PLEASE, SITCOM CREATORS.) According to Hitfix, “Gerwig will play Sally, described as ‘a female Peter Pan who has never grown up and has no idea of where she’s going in life.’ The narrator of the story, Sally will eventually be professionally successful and find love, but she’s currently in an incompatible marriage of less than a year and trying to find her footing as a grown-up with the help of her brother, his husband and her best friend.”
Here’s where it gets interesting: Not only will Gerwig play the lady version of Ted Mosby, but she’ll serve as one of the show’s producers and writers, should it go to series. (CBS has only committed to a pilot thus far.) So we’re not only looking at a major network showcase for Ms. Gerwig, one of the most engaging and charismatic people in movies, but she’ll also bring her considerable writing talents (she co-wrote several of her films, including Frances Ha and Hannah) to the project. Sounds like a win-win, right?
Wrong. Ms. Gerwig’s decision to front a sitcom spin-off on a broadcast network was, according to Badass Digest’s Devin Farici, “a triple axel of selling out.” That was the tone and tenor of much of the immediate criticism, at least among the film critics and movie geeks who populate this writer’s social media. Well, correction — that was the tone taken by most of the male critics and film fans I follow; female critics (and there are sadly few of them, but that’s another conversation) mostly seemed pleased at the notion of “Greta Gerwig on my TV every single week,” particularly when she’ll be calling the shots in a notoriously gender-slanted industry.
Elsewhere, however, the rage is palpable — and silly. “Honest to God, people are talking about Gerwig as if Joan Didion decided to write NCIS: Los Angeles,” tweeted Mark Harris, while noting, “Didion made money polishing scripts. If only Twitter had been around to make it easier for guys to call her a whore.” And there certainly seems to be an ugly double standard at work here; try as I might, I’m not digging up a lot of backlash among the indie set around the announcements that Gerwig’s frequent collaborator Mark Duplass had signed on for a sitcom about fantasy football, or started turning up on The Mindy Project every other week.
But beyond that, this entire tempest in a teapot seems borne out of a notion of “selling out” that is, at best, a moldy 20th-century leftover. More than one cynical soul has wondered how Twitter would’ve reacted to the major labels poaching indie bands in the early ‘90s; these days, a great band like the Black Keys licenses pretty much every song it’s ever recorded for commercials, and anyone who screeches about it doesn’t sound like a purist or a connoisseur, but someone who’s woefully out of touch with the realities of the present-day music business (where such licensing is about the only way to make a goddamn living anymore).
And the indie movie business, if you haven’t heard, isn’t doing much better. The gulf between tentpole blockbusters and low-budget movies for grown-ups continues to widen, with the tiny cost of the latter (enabled by huge advances on the technological side) leading to a surplus of small pictures from which it’s harder and harder to stand out. And Ms. Gerwig is such a unique and specific talent that Hollywood proper doesn’t seem to know what the hell to do with her; her biggest mainstream gig to date was a supporting role in the ill-advised Arthur remake, where she was forced to take a backseat (in the marketing and the film itself) to Jennifer Garner.
To be sure, some of the outrage comes not from Gerwig doing a sitcom, but doing this particular sitcom — and yes, it’s a spin-off of a “multi-cam hybrid” (read: laugh-track) series that has long exceeded its shelf life. But it’s easy to forget, in light of the sagging dead horse it’s become, that How I Met Your Mother had two or three genuinely great seasons as a smart, warm, innovative (for CBS primetime, at least) little junior Seinfeld. The fact that Gerwig signed on to its spin-off isn’t cause for trashing her; it’s a reason to get optimistic about the show, or at least for not dismissing it outright. The involvement of smart people should, if anything, make us less inclined to reject a project that sounds terrible. Or at least, that’s what all of Gerwig’s newly outraged critics have been telling me, for the past week, about a movie based on fucking Lego.
Maybe she’d just like a regular gig; maybe she sees some possibilities in the pilot script, which HIMYM creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wrote with Emily Spivey (whose Up All Night was a pretty charming little sitcom before NBC went and fucked it up). Maybe steady paychecks from the Tiffany Network will afford her the opportunity to keep doing risky, little movies during her hiatus. Or maybe she is just looking to cash in. And you know what? If she is, let her. She’s earned it. Gerwig’s been grinding it out in micro-budget indies since ’06, and she’s under absolutely no obligation to continue to do so for the benefit of our self-appointed guardians of Artistic Integrity.