Frances Ha Reviews
Great Film!!! The story is not about relationships being the necessary ingredient of a woman's self-esteem, but simply one component of an internal growth process. Frances Ha does a lot in eighty-six minutes, like notably humanizing the "hipster" culture of the last few years, detail loneliness and friendships, impending adulthood, and dependence all the more. The humanization of "hipster" culture comes into play because we notice that these characters are not of the "typical" breed, whatever we define as typical. They are about as free and unrestrained as the wind that catches their hair, especially Frances herself, who is arguably one of the most fun characters I've had the pleasure of watching this year. There's something about the way she engages in quick-witted conversation, runs happily through the streets of Chinatown at random, and is constantly proclaiming she is "undateable.' Gerwig magically transforms a character bound for a caricature state of mind into a strong woman that may not be looked at as a role model for girls but certainly a realistic portrayal of many. Frances Ha does not rely on formula or relationship clichés to make its points, but only on the performances to bring the characters to life. Baumbach and Gerwig take us on a wild ride without any clear signposts, yet the trip is poignant and even beautiful and we can joyously sense the light around the next turn. Frances Ha ranks highly in Noah Baumbach's worthwhile filmography because it is probably his most accessible, authentically charming, and least pretentious film all thanks to the screen writing aid and engaging performance from Greta Gerwig.
Frances lives in New York, but she doesn't really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she's not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie, but they aren't really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness.
The film is flawed (like all of Baumbach's movies), as meandering narrative tangents threaten to topple the plot at any moment. But after seeing Baumbach's film, the difference between Frances Ha and Girls (and why the former is much more successful and satisfying than the latter) is immediately apparent: Frances Ha is a complete story that is broken up and fragmented by those narrative tangents, whereas Girls is nothing more than a string of tangents that fail to build up into something articulate. Frances Ha uses intelligence and clarity to portray a lifestyle that often seems to lack both.
Black and white gives N.Y.C a picturesque and charming look, in synch with its witty and carefree central character, played with grace by the loveable Greta Gerwig.
Directed and co-written by Noah Baumbach, who is essentially the personification of a New York indie filmmaker (for better or worse) and co-written and starring Greta Gerwig, in her best role to date. "Frances Ha" tells the story of a woman in her late twenties named Frances who lives in New York, but doesn't really have any permanent residency. In fact, she doesn't really have any real direction in life. She is a dancer that doesn't really dance all that well. She continuously wears these hideous floral print dresses with black leggings and a sweater wrapped around her waist. In some circles she is referred to as "Frances undate-able". And to top it all off, her best friend, Sophie (played by Mickey Summer) and she seem to be growing apart, after Sophie decides to move in with her boyfriend. OK, so while this sounds like the makings of a barely watchable coming of age tale concerning a late twenties, annoyingly quirky, white, middle-class hipster, "Frances Ha" ends up being a pleasantly naturalistic and insightfully funny film about a woman just trying to find her place in a world that seems to be passing her by.
Shot in black and white, as if to transport us back to an older (better) style of Indie filmmaking, why this Baumbach endeavor works monumentally better than his last directorial attempt "Greenberg", has nothing to do with his direction. But clearly has almost everything to do with Greta Gerwig playing a middle class woman dealing with first world problems, with such likeability that audiences won't be able to help themselves but root for Frances and her quest to fulfill her idealistic dreams, no matter the odds.
Another Side Note: Much attention is going to be paid to the final scene, which serves to give an off-beat, yet simplistic explanation for the title of this film. And in its simplicity, many pretentious film school dialogues are sure to arise. But for the rest of us, the one great flaw in "Frances Ha" will come forth in a final few minutes which will end up leaving your average movie-goer cold.
Final Thought: This surprising little film almost plays out like an early Woody Allen. And that may be praise enough for many to immediately go out and buy a ticket (or maybe avoid this movie all together). But do realize that throughout the overtly quirky world Baumbach has built, Gerwig's performance (and undoubtedly her conversational dialogue) is the only thing here which allows this film to stay grounded, and more importantly stay relatable. Not to say Baumbach's content isn't entertaining, but "Frances Ha" is definitely Gerwig's time to shine, as she is the inexplicable reason I am giving a film like this a solid recommendation, even though its protagonist is reminiscent of the most annoying actress in the world: Zooey Deschanel.
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus
Frances (Greta Gerwig) is an apprentice for a dance company in New York City waiting her turn at much in life. She's waiting for her post-college life to fall into place; however, her world gets shaken up when her roommate and best friend since college, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), moves out. The distance grows beyond physical proximity and Frances feels like she's drifting away from her closest friend. In the meantime, she sputters trying to become an adult herself, swapping roommates and living conditions, and getting into trouble with guys, money, and Sophie.
While a bit freeform in its plot momentum, Frances Ha is perceptive and ultimately poignant film exploring female friendship dynamics and the perils of growing up. Frances is something of an adorable mess but she's been treading water for some time, bouncing around, but her window for avoiding the adult world is coming to a close and she knows it, which is why she feels the anxiety that she does. There's something completely relatable about the anxiety of entering into the "adult world," and yet it's a transition we must all endure. Frances, now 27, has put it off as long as she could but even her "other half," Sophie, is making the transition, and with it growing apart from her BFF. Frances may be living in New York City but she hasn't had a charmed existence, the kind of hipster nouveau rich experience we see detailed in Lena Dunham's Girls (a show I genuinely enjoy, though the second season was a bit iffy). When Frances is out on a date, an event she engineered because she just got her tax return, she discovers she has to pay in cash. She then runs several blocks looking for an ATM. When she finds one she stands in great deliberation at the screen. She'll incur a $3 fee for withdrawing. When she returns, she apologizes to her date, saying, "I'm sorry. I'm not a real person yet." Despite these economic bearings, she makes impulsive decisions but pays for them. A spontaneous weekend getaway to Paris, which she spends most of it sleeping or moping, results in Frances working back at her alma mater in a menial fashion.
There's also Baumbach's signature dark humor that follows Frances like a dark cloud, her life regularly a series of more downs than ups. However, Baumbach's caustic sensibilities have been sanded down, perhaps thanks to co-writer/girlfriend Gerwig's involvement, and the movie adopts a tone less scabrous and more knowing. It doesn't position us to laugh at Frances as a self-involved moron who makes poor decisions; we're laughing from the standpoint of perspective. I noticed little judgment (when she says "my friends make fun of me because I can't explain where my bruises come from," I thought of a few female friends in my life who could relate). Not much goes right for Frances through the duration of the movie, but by the end she appears to have come out the stronger. She's got the beginnings of her entrance into the adult world and the movie leaves the impression that she's going to be okay. I appreciated that she didn't abandon her passion with dance as if becoming a grown-up meant stepping away from what you care about. That concluding uplift provides a reward for the audience and Frances after so many missteps and struggles. There's a tenderness here that's refreshing for Baumbach.
I also thought Frances Ha was a very insightful and interesting look ay female dynamics, something that rarely gets such a thoughtful and high profile examination. Friendships, especially those between women, can function like romantic relationships when it comes to intimacy, minus the sex. Frances and Sophie comment that their relationship is like an old lesbian couple that has stopped having sex. They are each other's other half, attuned perfectly to one another's peculiar sensibilities. When Frances tries to recreate these sensibilities with another woman, she responds in annoyance. At the very beginning, Frances gets into a fight and breaks up with her boyfriend all because he wanted her to move in with him and thus away from Sophie. We feel her grief then when this important person, this long-standing friend that Frances has defined her own sense of identity with, is moving on and moving out. We've all had those people in our lives whose personal successes force us to reflect upon our own life trajectories, and we may grimace. It's an unavoidable part of growing up but our relationships will alter and the people important in our lives will fluctuate, many times through no fault to either party. Frances and Sophie are at that crossroads as Sophie settles down with a career and an emerging and serious relationship, while Frances is sputtering and trying to hold onto the past. The end even borrows a literal nod from 2011 Bridesmaids, one of my favorite films of that year. Frances yearns for a love that is so powerful so transcendent, that all it needs is a look, a silent nod of communication that both parties share, invisible to all others. It doesn't take a genius to infer that this look will be between Frances and Sophie by film's end.
Gerwig (Arthur, To Rome with Love) has been an up-and-coming It Girl for some time in Hollywood, rising in the ranks of mumblecore cinema and becoming a muse for Baumbach. Frances Ha is tailor-made to her amiable strengths; the woman is easy to fall in love with. Watch her skip and dance through the streets of New York, set to David Bowie's "Modern Love," and try not to smile. Gerwig has a natural, easy-going charisma and a screen presence that grabs you. Her cheerful, unmannered dorkiness grounds Frances' vanity, making her far more relatable and worthy of our rooting. France sis no mere Manic Pixie Dream Girl sketch of a woman; here is a three-dimensional figure for the taking. Gerwig also has fantastic chemistry with Sumner (TV's The Borgias), daughter of Sting. You instantly get a feel for the history these two have shared with their relaxed interactions. And speaking of HBO's Girls, Adam Driver, a.k.a. Adam, has a substantial supporting role and another Frances Ha actor, Michael Zegen (TV's Boardwalk Empire), will appear in season 3. Small world.
Frances Ha owes as much to the French New Wave as it does to the observational mumblecore movies of Gerwig's early roots. Here is a film that's perceptive, dryly funny, poignant, and relatively lovely in its quieter moments of everyday life and relationships, rich with feeling. It's angst and ennui without overpowering self-absorption. Your ultimate judgment is going to rest on your opinion of Gerwig and the Frances character, but I found both to be charming and easy to relate with. We want this woman to land on her feet, find her place in the world so to speak, but the movie refrains from casting condescension. Frances isn't stupid; she's a bit naïve and a bit impulsive and oblivious, but this woman is also hopeful, passionate, persistent, and a good person at heart. Losing her closest female friend is akin to the worst breakup of her life. She's sputtering to redefine herself, to find traction with the adult world she knows she cannot hold off any longer. In that sense, Frances Ha is also a winning look at late-bloomers. It's Baumbach's best film since Kicking and Screaming and one of the best films of 2013 thus far.
Nate's Grade: A-
She roams from experience to experience riding a wave of pure inspiration and authenticity, and she has love coming out of every pore. But she's borderline homeless, crashing at the apartments of various and sundry friends and acquaintances, some of whom have little tolerance for her immaturity.
She also is penniless, with no career prospects. But she's got extraordinary charm, which makes being in her presence for 90 minutes a delight.
Ultimately, I'd say the film is a celebration of bohemian inspiration over bourgeois achievement. Frances may not have any "achievements" in the eyes of bourgeois civilization, but in Baumbach's eyes she has a lot more value than the countless "successful" drones you meet everywhere in Manhattan who are so proud of themselves.
This aspect of the film is charming but predictable. The bohemian vs. bourgeois rivalry dates back at least to the 1810s with the rise of Romanticism. Also charming but predictable is the use of black-and-white cinematography. This was a revelation when Woody Allen used it for "Manhattan" (1979), and it still had power when Martin Scorsese used it for "Raging Bull" (1980). But ever since then its use is more affected than affecting. From arthouse innovation to arthouse pretension in two years.
But the film does contain one aspect that's quite original -- and oddly disconcerting. Frances appears to be something like post-heterosexual.
Her sexual attractions appear to be directed toward males exclusively, so in that sense she's heterosexual. But her primary love is her best friend from college, Sophie (played by Mickey Sumner, who is, incidentally, the daughter of Sting). -- unfinished--