Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Frances Ha (2013)

I kind of feel odd writing this review.  I actually saw Frances Ha several weeks ago. and for some reason really struggled to get any notes down about it.  Even as I write this, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to write much.  I think this is mainly due to the fact that I don't have a critique of Frances Ha.  I've often said in conversation that sometimes when I really like a film, I don't have much more to say about it than, "I really liked it!"  France Ha is a movie that's stuck with me in the weeks since seeing it, and it's likely to end up in my top 10 best films of 2013.  Hell, it's probably in my top 5 so far.

Another reason I had time getting my thoughts down about it is because like Seinfeld, Frances Ha is about nothing.  Well, not exactly "nothing", but it's not a plot driven story.  It's also set in New York, so I'm wondering if there's some kind of indie film rule that movies about single people in New York have to be character studies.

This isn't a bad thing as long as it's about an interesting or likeable character.  France Ha follows the life of a 20-something woman in New York as she deals with friendship, finding work and a place to stay, and just generally trying to find her place in the world.  Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a dancer, yet can't find work beyond teaching the occasional class.  She has money issues and difficulty with her living situation as a result.  As the film begins, Frances breaks up with her boyfriend, so there's that, too.  To her credit, she didn't really seem too into the guy and didn't dwell on their breakup, so I appreciate that.  Her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) on the other hand, is the opposite of this.  Her career is taking off, her relationship is getting more serious, and the two of them begin to drift apart.  Frances deals and struggles with all of these issues as the movie goes on.

Frances Ha is sometimes funny, sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes it's both.  What makes it all work is that it's easy to relate to Frances, whether you know someone just like her, or see a lot of yourself in her.  Who hasn't dealt with money issues, or watching your friends drift away after getting serious in a relationship?  I know I've gone through some of these things over the course of my life.

At one point, Frances fibs her way through a conversation, and you want to be mad at her because she's full of shit and lying for no real reason, but then I can recall times when I've flubbed my way through a conversation to either save face or act like I knew what I was talking about.  Later, she takes an impulsive trip to Paris in an effort to catch up with someone.  While there, her best friend finally calls her and invites her to a party.  Frances tells her she can't make it, but never mentions she's in Paris.  Why doesn't she just tell her where she is?  When you see Frances do stuff like this, she comes off as that classic person that can't get out of their own way.

Despite all of this, Frances manages to be likeable.  It's not like she's mean or a bad person.  She'd be a fun person to hang around with, although there are other times you want to shake her violently in the hopes that it gets her to straighten up.  I had a love/hate relationship with Frances.  Much of the reason why you're able to still like Frances is due to the performance of Greta Gerwig.  If it had been a different actress, it might not have worked.  As the character isn't always flattering, I was surprised to see that Gerwig co-wrote the film with director Noah Baumbach.  You get the feeling that she put a little of her own life experience in Frances.  It's also her finest performance to date.  I've always thought she had an endearing awkwardness about her, and that's really on display here.  Let this be a lesson to Hollywood on why dramedies or romantic comedies starring people like Katherine Heigl don't work.  You have to actually believe the person in the role or have a reason to relate to them.  Being clumsy or eating junk food is not an endearing character trait.

Noah Baumbach seems to have a knack for making honest, funny, uncomfortable films that don't always feature the most likeable people.  I strongly recommend watching The Squid and the Whale if you haven't seen it yet.  He's becoming one of my favorite writer/directors out there.  I also really enjoyed the choice to film this in black and white.  Much like how I felt about it in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, it really makes you focus on the dialog and emotion, rather than get caught up in the visuals.  Whether it was the use of black and white, the film's setting, or the music used, I also got a real Woody Allen vibe from the film.

Oscillating between hilarious, uncomfortable and frustrating, Frances Ha is always interesting.  One of the better films I've seen this year, it's a real and honest look at a woman struggling with friendship and transitioning into adulthood.  It's likely out of theaters by the time you read this, so I strongly recommend renting this.

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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