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Greetings again from the darkness. All the critics are raving about it.
Love abounds for the latest from director Noah Baumbach and his
co-writer and leading lady Greta Gerwig. What makes my ambivalence even
more confounding is that I'm a fan of Baumbach (The Squid and the
Whale) and Gerwig (Greenberg). The expert level of filmmaking and
acting is obvious, the script details and dialogue are exceptional, and
the situations and setting are realistic. So why aren't I more excited
about this one? That's what I've spent the past few days wondering.
It seems Frances Ha delivers everything I look for in an indie film. The problem is that I find almost every character to be annoying and self-absorbed. The first act finds Frances (Gerwig) sitting on top of the world. She has a boyfriend, a BFF/roomie, and is a dance company apprentice with the expectation of a dance career. Soon enough she watches Strike Three go by and her world is in a tailspin. We then watch Frances trudge on through uncertainty and instability in living arrangements, personal relationships and career path. It plays like a road trip that really never hits the highway.
Frances moves in with Lev (Adam Driver) and Ben (Michael Zegen) and she is oblivious to Ben's interest as she obsesses about her former BFF Sophie (Mickey Sumner). See, Sophie is trying to grow up while Frances wants to stay in her dream land where she and Sophie remain "the same person with different hair". Frances then crashes at the apartment of a fellow dancer played with all seriousness by Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter). The two dancing opposites attend an awkward dinner party at which Frances manages to spew an endless stream of absurd remarks that advertise her lack of maturity. Her response to this is to take a spontaneous trip to Paris ... charged to a new credit card.
Make no mistake. Frances is a very energetic and sincere free-spirited twenty-seven year old. The kind that is only charming in the movies. If her quirk wins you over, you will find yourself rooting for her to get her life together. That would put you in the same corner as most other film critics. On the other hand, if you recognize the optimism, but are unmoved by the immaturity and self-absorption, then you are banished to the corner of those who "just don't get it". And I'll be right there with you.
Can't really decide how I feel about this film. It was somewhat
intriguing, beautifully shot (in black and white), and the lead
character was perfectly cast. I love quirky characters in independent
movies, but most of the time I couldn't decide if Frances was
incredibly endearing or incredibly annoying. Immature, yes. Quirky,
yes. Childlike, yes.
I didn't by any means hate this movie, but I did not love it as much as others. It is a film like no other, and worth a watch, but it left me feeling ambivalent. There was really no plot, which made sense because Frances didn't really seem to have any clearcut goals or ambitions (other than being a dancer, which wasn't ever going to happen). She lived moment by moment and the film took us on her journeys even though I am not sure they served much of a purpose.
Is it fair to call Frances Ha a product of the mumblecore movement in
cinema or is it all too, well, professional? Noah Baumbach's
examination of culture, early adulthood, and obsessive friendships not
only makes for a good, topical debate but a very worthy motion picture,
as Frances Ha is one of the strongest films this year. Heavy on dialog,
characterization, and the strong, stable topics to examine, this is a
thoughtful mediation on what it means to grow up, stay true to your
friends, and be self-reliant.
The film stars the zealous Greta Gerwig (whose work in Hannah Takes the Stairs I still regard as terrific) as the title character, a plucky dancer at the age of twenty-seven, living with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Summer) and her best guy-friend Benji (Michael Zegen). Frances and her friend Sophie are like "straight lesbians," so Benji says, as they do everything together, and both of them would seemingly be lost without each other. The thought is put to the test when Sophie decides to move out of the cramped studio apartment in favor of moving in with another friend, leaving Frances sort of lost and unfulfilled with her current position in life.
This is basic framework for a story that begins to follow the path of a series of vignettes, focusing on the ups and downs in life, along with those awkward stretches no one really likes to talk about. Baumbach brilliantly captures this through a black and white lens, and allows his actors the freedom to get immersed in their characters with little restrictions in place.
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.
I imagine the loneliness that the loneliness and slight-depression Frances feels when Sophie leaves her is one many post-college girls will feel when their best girlfriend moves on to bigger and better things and she remains somewhat inert and stuck in her current life position. Baumbach details growing up in Frances Ha not as a choice but as an obligation, which it rightfully is in many regards, but the way he doesn't isn't condescending or superficial, but rather hopeful and endearing.
NOTE: My video review of Frances Ha, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc6LbMzbGww
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Summer, and Michael Zegen. Directed by: Noah Baumbach.
Hey I can't disagree more with the previous poster (Mark Rogle). Woody
Allen's Manhattan is a classic, but that was another time and another
FRANCES HA was SPOT-ON regarding actual life, work, and social issues that apply to the current age. The comedic timing is flawless, as is Gerwig's deadpan expression. While shot in Black & White, it added to the range of locales - making it believable. The same can be said for the characters (including Gerwig's actual parents). Another New York "slice of life" story, but truly believable and entertaining!
What the movie wasn't, was overly cerebral and full of fantasy situations (like "Girls"). Also, Hannah in "Girls" is always dressed like a deranged person, playing up a strangely shaped body that distracted from the prose of her productions. Gerwig's character had no such wardrobe overkill - it complemented the actress and the scenes perfectly.
As an actress, Greta Gerwig is funny and poignant, straddling the line between ordinary-looking and classically beautiful. Everything is expressed in her eyes. She's a magnificent writer as well. Highly recommended - by me!
Being called "undateable" is sort of like a team player being labeled
"uncoachable," not a strong recommendation. This label tags
maturity-challenged Frances (Greta Gerwig) in Noah Baumbach's
warm-hearted comedy Frances Ha, a film that has genuine affection for
its characters. Co-written by Baumbach and Gerwig and supported by an
eclectic soundtrack that includes music by French film composer Georges
Delerue and the songs of David Bowie, Frances Ha (the title is
explained in the film's final shot) is a film in which people talk and
act like real human beings, not cardboard caricatures manipulated by a
self-conscious script that "strives for reality." Though the film is
full of light-hearted energy, it does not strain to be quirky or "in
your face." It is clever because that's the way it is.
Shot in black and white by cinematographer Sam Levy, 27-year-old Frances lives in a Brooklyn apartment with her girl friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). She wants to be a dancer, and apprentices for a small dance company, but seems to lack the determination to really develop her talent. Though the exact nature of their relationship is not spelled out (what you see is what you get), they are at the very least good buddies who are tight. Frances says her relationship with Sophie is "like a lesbian couple that doesn't have sex anymore," but Sophie is not quite as attached and tells Frances that she has decided to move in with her upscale boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger).
Refreshingly however, 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 goes out with Lev (Adam Driver), another under-achieving New Yorker, but her economic needs trump her physical ones and she moves in with Lev and his roommate Benji (Michael Zegen) on a strictly platonic basis to save on the rent, although Benji develops a real connection with her (which Frances is blind to). She stumbles through relationships, not making a terrific impression. One woman tells her in talking about her friend, "You look a lot older, but you seem far less mature." Frances does not have the kind of job prospects that she alludes to with her friends and her overall veracity is questionable, but she makes up for it with tons of charm. She actually makes some stabs at shaking things up, going home to Sacramento to visit her parents (Gordon and Christine Gerwig, her real parents), impulsively flying to Paris for a weekend to prove to a friend that she can, and, upon returning after a joyless weekend, taking a job as a "drink pourer" at Vassar where she had gone to school. Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Although Frances Ha is about young New Yorkers living on the margins, it is not and does not aspire to be a commentary on the current economic situation or the plight of young people. The film is about talented folks who have not quite gotten it together and whose level of responsibility lags somewhere below the norm. The characters have their flaws and are not always self aware, but Baumbach recognizes that the process of growth does not happen suddenly and refuses to judge his characters, or make snide commentaries about New Yorkers.
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. Unlike the angry, unpleasant Roger in Baumbach's previous film Greenberg, the more you hang around Frances (Greta Gerwig), the more you grow to like her insanely. Though Frances may be undateable, the film is unmissable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My girlfriend and I were excited to see this movie--(97% on Rotten
Tomatoes)...but were extremely disappointed. We would have stopped half
way through, but were convinced something redeeming would happen in the
last half. There wasn't. Obviously we are outnumbered on this one.
Why? I couldn't find a likable character anywhere in the movie. And Francis--cute and endearing to many, it seems--came across as shallow (with mindless drivel usually coming out of her mouth), spacey, childish (comes off as a needy grade schooler at times), entitled (that she can coach surf indefinetely) and selfish. She comes off as a stoner/dancer trust fund kid who hasn't worked a hard day in her life. She appears to be floating around New York with very little passion or interest in anything. Even her "love" of dancing feels lukewarm as she seems unwilling or unable to put any real work behind it (until the final scene of the movie). And you fly all the way to Paris just to sit in a coffee shop? C'mon. I'm sure this all sounds harsh for the vast majority of people who liked this film, but I haven't seen such annoying group of characters in a very long time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Warning this review does contain spoilers! I really wanted to like
"Frances Ha": after all it is an independent movie, right? Anymore, I
wonder what kind of weight the term "independent" carries at least in
the realm of movie-dom. This was the second movie that my friend and I
saw that evening so we chose "Frances" because it seemed like lighter
fair from the spy movie we saw earlier. My friend found the film
mediocre at best, my criticism was much more harsh.
How about a real story here. Here we have Greta Gerwig in the guise of Frances who meanders through life having aspirations of being a professional dancer but doesn't really commit herself fully to making that happen. She even turns down an office job at her dance company when she didn't make the cut for the BIG Christmas production. So, instead of keeping a job at a dance company that at least keeps her "foot in the door" she goes off on an aimless vacation to France in order to impress her more prosperous friends. Even Frances' "conversations" are mindless. She makes outrageous statements to shock her friends and acquaintances only to retract them seconds later.
I could go on but in short this is a vanity movie for neophyte and wanna-be actors. Replete with show-biz nepotism; Mickey Sumner, Grace Gummer, and Charlotte D'Amboise are daughters of rock-star "Sting", Meryl Streep, and ballet super-star Jacques D'Amboise. Not to be outdone Greta Gerwig's own parents play her parents in the movie! There is little to recommend in watching this movie. Gerwig does have a certain ebullient charm and Mickey Sumner shows promise as Frances' friend. They both no doubt will see future roles. But the fault of this film rests with the poor directing and especially the bad writing. Like most Hollywood movies there is no real story here, just a string of gratuitous scenes by a director who at best has a lackluster track record.
Frances Ha (2012)
I liked this film in a kind of interested, warm way as it got going. Its black and white simplicity and its regular people both appeal on the most normal level.
The more I watched, however, and the more I absorbed the brilliance of the performance by leading actress playing Frances (Greta Gerwig), I became entranced and stunned. This is a great film. A great independent film, without production pretensions, but held together perfectly within its means.
This is worth making clearthe film makes a virtue of its simple approach. You'll never feel like it's technically compromised. The photography is a subtle, smart black and white. There's even one scene near the end where two people are talking in bed and they chose to use the very minimum of light, so you just barely see their faces. For a long deep conversation. Gorgeous, and effective.
It's Gerwig who steals the movie, for sure. And she helped write the really sparkling, believable, clever but never too-clever script. It's brilliant stuff. Brilliant. She hits a note of fast transparency, a totally "right" dialog and delivery. Way harder than it seems.
And the character she plays, Frances, is one of those lovable types where things don't go quite right even with all the best intentions. Most of us identify with that all too well. We have our better selves and we have the reality of where those good intentions have gotten us. And yet she perseveres. She puts up with strange but not unfriendly people around her in one apartment after another, and we get a glimpse of young New Yorkers with all their minor pretensions. Searing and funny and touching.
Don't be put off by the weird title (the one mistake in making the film) or by the beginning and its slow, restrained monochrome. The film makes the most of it all and is terrific.
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig lead us on an expansive journey that
takes place in the confines of several years in the life of a single
character - Frances. They co-wrote the film and Gerwig is sublimely
engaging as Frances, a woman who prefers to focus on the moments along
life's path rather than any sort of destination to the path itself.
Baumbach takes those incredibly realistic and often uncomfortable moments, shapes them into black-and-white vignettes that are both immediate and personal, and then precisely combines those vignettes into this delicate and funny film. It's rounded off by an unbelievably talented supporting cast who make "Frances Ha" an all-around joy to watch.
I had high hopes for this movie, I really did. We ended up seeing it
because Blue Jasmine wasn't showing anymore, which seemed like a
natural choice since Frances Ha was being touted as a a'modern Woody
Allen-movie' http://goo.gl/0sHCY2 (which in itself is a stupid
classification since many of Allen's movies are timeless, but
What I expected was a thoughtful display into the inner life of an interesting person dealing with existential dilemmas (who am I when I'm all alone? How do my friends define me? How can I decide on which values in life broaden rather than cheapen it?), but instead found a group of pretentious people talking past each other.
Seriously, I couldn't find a single honest conversation in this entire movie, which sort of ruins the whole emphasis on dialogue. By 'honest' conversation I mean the actual investment of feeling into the words coming out of the mouths of the people maintaining the conversation, a good example of the opposite is this:
"You're my best friend"
"I'm moving out"
"I can't get this ring off of my finger"
Which is more or less taken directly out of a scene on the subway in Frances Ha. People might say this movie is 'quirky', 'fun' and 'well-written', and it might have some trace of all those characteristics, but in the end (for me, anyway) none of that matters when there isn't a trace of honesty left - who would want to watch a shallow, uninteresting, self-centered person experience random stuff for 1 hour and 24 minutes?
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