Friday, June 14, 2013

Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig is Frances
**1/2 out of **** 
Frances Ha is a new film co-written and directed by Noah Baumbach. His creative partner/girlfriend, Greta Gerwig, co-wrote and stars in it. Her title character is a New York girl in her late-twenties, who is growing self-conscious in her lack of development towards adulthood. She lives check-to-check from a job assisting a dance studio and deeply relies on the company of friends, particularly Sophie (Mickey Sumner -Sting’s daughter), to get her by.

Frances and Sophie love one another deeply as best friends. So much so, that in an early scene, Frances lets her relationship with a good boyfriend go down the toilet, when asked to move in with him. She turns him down, not wanting to part with Sophie. Shortly after, Sophie surprises Frances by moving out when offered a place that fits her needs. What follows are the eventful and uneventful choices by Frances to fill this new void in her life.

I find Gerwig to be charming -even when she’s playing someone as obnoxiously featherheaded as Frances. She is a particular type of adorable young woman that I have seen in real life but rarely in the movies. She definitely carries this film.

Noah Baumbach usually challenges his audience with characters who are hard to like. If he writes from what he knows, then he knows a lot of privileged people who damage one another and use their immense education to rationalize their selfishness. Does he like these characters?

When I saw his first film, The Squid and the Whale, I felt like what I saw, was a Wes Anderson film set in reality. I think that he creates flawed characters normally put in the detached context of quirky comedy, but he can’t bring himself to be quirky enough. He senses something real about them and feels obligated to keep them real. The results are still funny but sad.

This brings me to address his visual style, or lack thereof. There is something about how his low-contrast and rather plain-looking imagery that doesn’t aim to impress. This movie in particular, is shot in black and white. Baumbach clearly doesn’t want a defined style that might distract us from the substance. While I am normally excited to see any movie shot in black and white nowadays, this isn’t the kind I would call beautiful. It looks more like a student film shot in the nineties but it serves its purpose. Black and white cinema will always lead the audience to focus on the shape of things, particularly faces. This movie is always studying the face of Frances as she deals with rejection and confusion while hiding it under her giddy demeanor.

The movie, like its lead character, changes gears a lot and sometimes feels like it’s forgetting itself. Though I really liked a segment of the film when she visits her parents in Sacramento and the movie suddenly goes into montage-mode showing a return to a place of ease and comfort.

I suppose Frances Ha is a good movie but it didn’t really speak to me. I can’t hold anything against it for that. The movie is about the struggle to grow up, which I’ve dealt with and still do. Baumbach usually aims to create flawed hypocritical characters but dares us to see ourselves in them. Other auteurs do this as well. Woody Allen makes his characters more fun. Whit Stillman makes his more intelligent. In the end, most of theses artists tend to alienate your average moviegoer. Working with Gerwig, Baumbach has made a less bitter movie than his usual fare (Margot at the Wedding being the most difficult) and gets a little closer to achieving that identification he wants us to feel.

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