Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)
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Random events and improvised dialogues, redundant and irrelevant, a bunch of friends playing to be actors. If a line or two might be interesting, it's by pure chance. Character decisions are pointless, now I like you now I don't, they could be doing just about anything else and it wouldn't matter. I can't believe I watched the whole thing. I remember a time when low budget films weren't necessarily an endless self-absorbed rambling and characters would actually do things, go places.
This one's charming and unpredictable and savvy, which makes it, it would appear, a bit of a problem for the non-astute viewer used to being hit over the head: it's not "drama," it's drama. (Check out the part where the guy observes, "Office Romance: Good idea or Bad Idea? Bad Idea, but, okay ... now what?" Somehow these things don't come up in rom-coms where everyone can afford airfare easily.)
Whimsical disappointment, and, I guess whimsical "spoiler" alert: the movie's got a slinky in it, but we never see it going down "the stairs"! ("What! I paid $8 to see this? Show me the slinky ... going all the way!")
There are so many problems with this movie, where to begin?
1) It's obvious that this film was entirely improvised, and that is confirmed by the director in interviews he did. The problem with improvising a movie, is that MOST of the time it simply doesn't work. Not as a movie. Mike Leigh is one notable director (from England) who has done this numerous times with his movies; however, most of the time he has, it's not worked well. It did one time (with "Secrets & Lies"), but from what I read, they worked from a storyline. The director and actors here with "Hannah" clearly didn't. Consequently, there's no story arc. There's no arc to the characters, emotionally or otherwise. Nobody is any different at the end than they were at the beginning. At least if you watch paint dry, it's wet at the beginning and dry at the end -- and that's at least something.
The coterie of talent assembled here, by and large, do not have the talent to pull this off successfully. That's not really a slam against them; most people in the world cannot pull this off successfully.
2) The next biggest problem? Actors must be truly talented AT IMPROVISATION, to be able to do this engagingly beyond a couple minutes. These actors aren't. I don't mean to be unkind here, but being able to improvise is a particular skill in the acting arena, and not everyone has it. At least at the point this film was made, these actors -- all of them -- didn't have it. Duplass is a step above all the others, but even he doesn't pull it off as it could/should have been.
How do you know when an actor isn't really good at improvisation? Their performance doesn't grab you or entertain you. It's dull or mediocre. Part of this (but not all) has to do with non-specificity by the actor. Meaning, they're acting "generally" and without drawing upon "real" experiences. Every single performance in "Hannah" is general -- and that's due to the story being improvised, the scenes being improvised, and the actors doing NO homework/study on who they were, their characters or their backgrounds. Maybe it's because they're lazy. Or maybe it's because they don't understand what makes any performance a good or powerful performance. Even Greta Gerwig's emotional breakdown at the end is SO drab & boring & one-note that it simply does not captivate the viewer. Plus, it goes on forever, which detracts even further from the scene. Less is more. (That the director clearly didn't get.)
There's a reason certain actors are vaunted in our culture (or the world), like say, Meryl Streep. When you view any role she's ever done, her work is specific. So specific, it's captivating. Same with De Niro. Two actors, incidentally, who are notorious for studying and working on their roles before filming starts.
The actors in "Hannah" are neither captivating, nor even interesting. Which is mostly their fault, but also that of the director. With all the films the director has now done since this movie, I would hope he's better. He's far from exhibiting the talent of a Scorsese, Tarantino, Nolan, Aronofsky, etc., but perhaps he will in the future (or perhaps has with his later projects).
Lastly, I probably shouldn't be surprised given the nature of this film, but I was at the absolute lack of any make-up being used at all. Not even the use of "erace" or something similar to cover up some of the actors' acne. Two of the actors had issues with this, and it was quite distracting to see Gerwig in close-ups with a full-on pimple on her nose in a couple scenes. This isn't nor should be some "badge of honor" in the no-budget filmmaking world. Frankly, it's stupid. And so easily & cheaply remedied.
Hannah is played by Greta Gerwig; a woman of considerable screen presence who is only elevated by a charming array of supporting characters. During the first act of the film, she is dating Mike (fellow mumblecore filmmaker Mark Duplass), a listless louse whose impulsive decisions make him the worst kind of boyfriend. When he quits his job because at the moment he isn't satisfied, and after much contemplation, Hannah dumps him and becomes interested in her two coworkers at an internship in Chicago.
The men are straight-shooter Matt (Kent Osborne) and offbeat Paul (Andrew Bujalski, another mumblecore filmmaker), who lounge around in their office talking up a real storm of nonsense and watching their lives uncomfortably transcend into adulthood. Hannah also has a close friendship with Rocco (Ry Russo-Young), a woman who is known for helping her through tough times and even content to sit with her in the shower when necessary.
Swanberg's trademarks that appear to be continuous throughout his films are intimacy, sex, human communications, and technology, all of which seem to be shown here in some form. There's a high level of intimacy, mostly because the actors seem fearless in scenes where they casually change clothes and show full frontal nudity to the camera, and the fact that there are many shower sequences in the film where two characters will discuss things with each other bathing right beside them. This is a daring, provocative tactic, used not as a test on the audience's part, but as a way of showing humanity in its rawest possible form. One of mumblecore's main requirements is naturalism and here it is employed fearlessly through performances, events, dialog, and personal complications among the characters.
As I watched the picture, I couldn't help but feel that Swanberg and his band of six writers, most of whom are the cast as well, have an incredible eye for post-college boredom and the uncertainty of it all. This is a picture where events and plot lines act as a gimmick, but are more of a true life-affirming revelation that many, many people experience after college, where you are beginning to discover what you are going to be doing for possibly the rest of your life. If you are facing this sort of life-uncertainty, it's the kind of film that reassures you in the sense that others may have that same problem.
NOTE: Hannah Takes the Stairs is most likely meant as a metaphor, and I believe it symbolizes that she favors to float through life as an unambitious bubble rather than make the snap decision to ultimately pick a career and go from there. Or, "taking the stairs," if you will.
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski, Mark Duplass, and Ry Russo-Young. Directed by: Joe Swanberg.
Hannah is so self-absorbed and inarticulate that she's unable to explain her capriciousness beyond a confession of "chronic dissatisfaction" embroidered with vacuous embellishments along the lines of "like, you know . . um . . whatever". Despite the repetitive drone of the film's banal improvised dialog, the actors always appear to be 'acting' and conscious of the camera's presence, which amplifies the cast's deficiencies with its own wobbly hand-held artifice. When the TV company's manager expresses exasperation about the folly of workplace romance in the penultimate scene, it seems like a rather shallow insight after suffering 83 minutes of excruciating tedium.
Hannah (Greta Gerwig) is a neo-Bohemian playwright with poor instincts when it comes to men, who, upon dumping her ne'er-do-well musician boyfriend, immediately strikes up romances with two fellows at the obviously loosey-goosey TV production company where she works. The movie strives hard to be as extemporaneous as possible both in its performances and its direction, and while that does yield a few moments of truth and honesty along the way (the break-up scene is almost painfully convincing), too much of the movie is simply vapid and self-indulgent, with a trio of perfectly able-bodied young folk puling and mewling and whining about life to the point where we just don't care to listen to them anymore.
With no real plot or storyline to speak of, watching "Hannah Takes the Stairs" is a bit like staring at someone else's random doodlings for an hour-and-a-half and finding no real reason why we should care about them. And, oh yes, unless I missed it, no actual staircase appears in the movie, with or without Hannah going up or down it. I guess it must be metaphorical.
*** Hannah Takes the Stairs (3/11/07) Joe Swanberg ~ Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski, Mark Duplass
The film follows her through a period of time and many conversations with her partners, colleagues and friends and nails her in how rather self-centred and selfish she is when it comes to her relationships. Some of this is clunkingly obvious to the point of being a bit irritating but mostly it feels natural. It seems this is mostly down to Gerwig, who is utterly convincing in who she is, a feat that is more impressive due to the lack of script (although I suppose she may be this person but I shall assume she is not). The problem is that, given how rather annoying Hannah is, the film seems happy to let the viewer wallow in her life without a lot of interest going on once her character has been established as much as it will be (which is early on). Without much happening we are left with only the characters to hold the viewer in the film – in particular Hannah. The problem is that this is not something that appeals and, even if it does, the lack of any sort of destination (thematically, emotionally, narratively – you name it) means that you get little back from the film.
Ultimately, for all its naturalism and the appeal this offers me, the film goes nowhere and just leaves me with people that I have no reason to have patience with and, although I gave the film the time it wanted, I find myself taking nothing away from it other than a sense of time wasted. As an experiment it is interesting and Gerwig is a big part of the film working at all but it amounts to very little and has the further downside of suggesting that this is somehow the standard for independent little dramas now. Ignore the hyped praise and ignore the scathing criticism – the truth is somewhere in the middle albeit it more towards the critical end of the spectrum.
They started out with a great simple boy and girl storyline which fit their means perfectly. They respected the audience by making all of the plot points quickly, and effectively moving through all the scenes. However, they did not seem to show this same respect for the main character Hannah. She was self-absorbed, irritating and completely unrelatable. By the end of the movie (if you make it that far) you just don't care if Hannah finds what she's looking for or not.
Should you see this movie? Probably not. But I do believe that all independent films deserve our support. Here's hoping their next effort is better.
This film has a rightful place alongside the other mumblecore works, its bad, poorly filmed, but does both start and END so there is that, it has that going for it. The basic plot is this, Hannah is confused, what to do? Thats it, I don't have to elaborate at all, thats the entirety of it.
If you come near this film, run in the opposite direction
I could find a few of my friends, buy a cheap camera and make a movie 10x better than this is a matter of hours. Any self respecting "critic" that gave this movie a good review should be ashamed. This is total CRAPOLA, and I'm sorry but that's just a fact.
From the beginning we can see that there is no budget here, they don't even try to hide it... not necessarily a bad thing, if it hadn't been so much like a movie I recently saw on youtube called "four eyed monsters", which belonged on youtube. I believe this belongs on youtube as well, for its amateurish almost-there-but-not-quite quality.
The zoom-ins to try to capture Hannah's emotion where all else fails are absolutely played-out and do nothing for the scene...
While it is nice to see "real people" sometimes instead of actors, in this case, it's not. It's nice that the guys in the movie are "cute in their own way", giving them a chance to pull the promiscuous blond-chick, based on their personalities for once. (Matt's hairiness and ass made me almost want to leave right then) Hannah's "I don't knows..." get old really quickly. Also, trying to end a movie on a happy note doesn't always work, in this case there was already a bad pattern established.
The only interesting character was Hannah's roommate, Rachel, and right when she started to develop we got cut off by another one of Hannah's escapades. Rachel seemed to be too mature or too aesexual to get involved with anyone at that point in her life, let alone the three men Hannah paraded around, and smartly so- the best thing Rachel does is just sit back and enjoy the show (or should I say train wreck). And for that, three stars.
The film is rather claustrophobic since most of the action takes place in just a few rooms, with what appears to be the occasional "stolen shot" outside. I say stolen because filming permits in a big city are rather expensive and the outdoor set ups have a "quick, get the shot and get out before the cops see us" feel to them (these shots only run a few seconds, which is the main indication).
The characters talk about their lives and work, talk some more, have sex, talk some more, talk, talk, etc. The occasional nude scene keeps the audience awake, but with no real story to propel the film along I found it to be quite a snoozer.
Not too surprisingly, all dialog was improvised—-and it shows. Scenes ramble on for quite some time and even though the film is less than an hour-and-a-half, it seems quite longer.
Filmmakers, please write a script and actually have a plot. Without it, the most attractive actors and locations in the world aren't worth much if you can't keep your audience interested.
"Hannah Takes The Stairs" suffers from having no script. It is its glaring weakness and what, in the end, makes it wholly unsatisfying. As a whole, the story wanders around way too much and does not give its viewer a reason to really care for any of its characters. It is the kind of film you watch once and then forget about totally. If you were to ask me, should I see "Hannah Takes The Stairs", I would say, "Definitely. Watch it once but you won't ever want to watch it again."