23rd Nov2013

‘Frances Ha’ Criterion Collection Review

by Dan Clark

Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Esper | Written by Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig | Directed by Noah Baumbach

Frances_Ha-Greta-Gerwig

Age is certainly not a determining factor on maturity. As generations have gone on the line between adolescents and adulthood has become more and more blurry. If you were to look at the responsibility of a twenty something during the beginning of the 20th century it would be extremely different from the life of a twenty something today. With that change many have established ways to circumvent entering that dreary real world we were all promised, and instead continue on with the self-discovery previously reserved for the more immature years. Noah Baumbach’s latest film Frances Ha  explores the concept of this new-found adulthood, and questions when we actually determine who we want to be as people.

This new look coming of age story is a well spirited take on the different ways people attack, or in Frances Hallady’s case, delay adulthood. Baumbach uses a kind hand by never overly scrutinizing his character’s impulsivity. It is a casual observation that is certainly not interested in coming to any form of grand conclusion. In some ways that laissez-faire attitude does lead to a meandering pacing that stalls out at the wrong moments, although it does avoid getting bogged down in overly mundane plot details. Frances Ha  is solely concerned on how to present its characters in interesting and relatable circumstances. Greta Gerwig’s charming lead performance is the tie that brings it all together. Even with its notable flaws Frances Ha  is still that rare eccentric comedy done right.

In the film Greta Gerwig plays Frances Hallady, a twenty-seven year old dancer who freely admits she is not a real person yet. She has a messy lifestyle, or as she puts it ‘busy lifestyle’, that is built upon spontaneity and enjoying the idiosyncrasies of everyday life in New York City. She is less concerned with planning her future ahead, and more concerned with living it up with her roommate/best friend  Sophie played by Mickney Sumner.  Frances and Sophie are platonic soul mates. Often they refer to themselves as the same person just with different hair. Things hit a bit of a snag when their lives begin to go in different directions. Now without her other half Frances is forced to confront many of life’s difficulties she once willfully ignored.

Gerwig is an ideal choice to play this aloof character who lacks any defined identity. She is a meanderer who is seemingly unaware of responsibility. After receiving a tax rebate she instinctively splurges on an unnecessary celebratory dinner instead of using her newly acquired wealth wisely.  This is not a performance that some will rally for during awards season, but Gerwig has a genuineness to her that is undeniable. Her eccentricity is charming, and her self-deprecating humor is welcoming. At times her quirkiness does verge on excessive and nearly reaches manic pixie dream girl levels.  Luckily those moments are few and far between.

Baumbach’s ability to capture New York City’s culture is very reminiscent of other classic comedic dramas like Manhattan or Annie Hall.  Some may scoff at the comparison, and of course quality wise they are not on the same playing field.  However, what they all have in common is a reflection of a specific time and lifestyle. Whether you want to call them ‘hipsters’ or bohemian free thinkers this group of characters are consistently intriguing with their illuminating conversations about nothing.

Choosing the shoot the film in black and white does add a timeless quality. Juxtaposes this story of the now with a classic technique does have merit. The issue is it comes off as nothing more than just an aesthetic choice.  I am all for contemporary films choosing to shoot in black and white.  A movie like Good Night, and Good Luck  uses the method with extreme effectiveness. Here the choice loses its charm not long after the film begins. Part of it is due to the rather bland cinematography that does not take advantage of any of the landscapes or features New York provides.

The film does succeeds at being character first. Bringing the world a character the lacks shame and is willing to put herself out there  for all to behold.  Mixing universal struggle with specific conflict permits it to be both unique and relate-able.  Suffering from a forced conclusion does cause it to end with a dud, but those looking for some light drama and some well-rounded humor should do themselves a favor and partake in the world of Frances Ha.

Special features on the Criterion disc include a conversation between filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and director Noah Baumbach; a conversation between actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley and the film’s cowriter and star, Greta Gerwig; a conversation about the look of Frances Ha between Baumbach, director of photography Sam Levy, and Pascal Dangin, who did the film’s color mastering; the trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by playwright Annie Baker.

***½  3.5/5

Frances Ha is available now from Criterion.com

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