Frances Ha (2012)
Rated R for being pretty crass. Like, the movie isn't dirty, but it edges on Clerks dirty. I know, I'm talking in circles. Visually, there's very little that would be constituted as R. However, lazy conversations tend to lean sexual, which apparently mimics how people really talk. I get it. Like, I do. Honestly, the sex talk is scandalous and edgy, but like I said, I got that out of my system when I saw Clerks in high school. I think this topic has been pretty well covered. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
I thought Greta Gerwig directed this too. I was watching this as "The other Greta Gerwig" movie because people told me to. I know, she co-wrote the screenplay and starred in it. But I wanted to see a better version of Lady Bird. Lady Bird got really close to making me like it with the exception of Lady Bird herself, so I thought I should give Frances Ha a chance. I'm super glad I did, despite the fact that I think this might be another example of a nitpicky review. Let's make this very clear. I really liked this movie. I actually liked it way more than Lady Bird. As a study of Gerwig's work, this the more solid movie. That being said, there are some absolutely bananas decisions when it comes to this movie and I kind of want to know why.
The first thing, and this kind of sticks in my craw a bit, is the directing style of Baumbach. I think I go back and forth on Baumbach. I just raved pretty hard about The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) as being one of my favorite movies of last year. It had an indie feel, but with such a polish that it didn't feel like it was trying too hard. I am kind of forgiving of directors' early works when there is a garage band feel to the whole thing. There's a reason for those rough edges. Directors tend to lack a budget for impressive actors and are inexperienced in bringing out strong performances. But we are well into Baumbach's career by this point. Yeah, there's Adam Driver, who does a really good job in this movie. But the performances reflect the style of an early director who doesn't really know how to elicit strong performances from people. Instead, like a lot of indie movies, it leans heavily on the cleverness of the dialogue. Baumbach and Gerwig are both clever writers. Sometimes they can be a little too clever in an attempt to recreate the witty banter of their real lives. I like witty banter. In fact, in Frances Ha, the thing I simultaneously love and and loathe is the witty banter. It's very on point. But the dialogue shouldn't really carry the movie beyond the performances. Gerwig, as Frances, actually has a lot to work with. She isn't completely inept at delivering these moments, but there are a lot of safe choices being made. Gerwig is in a few movies, so it's odd to see her lean so heavily on the dialogue. She is a vehicle for her own dialogue rather than exploring what could be done. I know. I'm not allowed to comment on this. She wrote the dialogue with the intention of it being read that way. But the movie, because of these flat choices, keeps the same monotone the entire film. That monotone kind of works, but it isn't always the best choice. There could have been some other vulnerable moments rather than the same self-loathing that goes throughout the film. Again, I got the vibe that this is semi-autobiographical. I know that Gerwig probably lived the life of Frances to a certain degree. Perhaps it is an attempt to gain a degree of authenticity, but this borderline could have been audiobook.
Perhaps there was a goal to have that garage band feel to the movie. I mean, the monochrome is a strong and obvious choice. Perhaps Baumbach felt like he lost his narrative voice. The mise en scene really screams '90s Linklater. It is cool, but the biggest beef I have is that this movie was made in 2012. Instead of redefining what it means to be an independent film, it rested very heavily on old tropes and directing choices. The best thing in the movie is the baller soundtrack. I'm listening to this baller soundtrack right now. (I tend to listen to the soundtacks of movies I'm reviewing while I write. It puts me back in the headspace of the film.) The soundtrack is the most playful thing in the movie. I don't know if this was a conscious choice or not, but the camera tends to be most playful when the soundtrack is really ripping. There's the score from The 400 Blows (I told you!) that has this absolutely phenomenal tracking shot of Frances looking for an ATM. This is the movie I want throughout. Instead, these are much welcome moments of excitement in the midst of a lot of clever talking. But all this stuff aside, the movie does actually get pretty fun. There is a lot of negative stuff I'm preaching, but Frances as a character is straightforward thanks to the direction. I know. Baumbach is doing a character piece and servicing the character over the film itself. Because of this, we get to know Frances really well, foibles and all. Actually, Frances really is just a combo of foibles and that's awesome. This is maybe what I like about Gerwig's writing choices. She writes these characters that are moral tales in themselves. In Lady Bird, it's about finding love and joy in the reality versus in the world outside. So what is Frances Ha's message?
I have to believe that Frances Ha is about placing too much value on the arrested development / early 20s. It's probably all about the dangers of overconfidence and self-glorification, but I want to look at how this seems to be a prevailing theme in Gerwig's work. Frances isn't a bad person by any means. She's a bit selfish and self-centered, but so am I. But she also wants things to either be the same or better. She places so much value on her best friend. One of the cringiest things about the movie is every time that she mentions that Sophie is just her clone or twin. I would like to say that I've never said it, but there was too much trauma when she said it to say that I've never pulled that card before about a good friend. But she places too much on Sophie's shoulders. Sophie is growing while Frances is standing still. My friend Pat moved to Texas when I just wanted him to stay around the corner. Dan moved to Canada. I get Frances's very real predicament. She wanted her friend to hang out with her forever. Friendship, as the movie establishes, is absolutely valuable. But friendship also desires the best for the other person, regardless of whether or not that friendship suffers. In Frances Ha, the relationship falls apart and kind of redefines itself. I love the reality of that. I still consider Pat and Dan among my best friends. If I saw them, I would red carpet it like nobody's business / play it SUPER COOL so they don't know I miss them a lot. But it takes Frances a lot to make it to that point. I do love that Gerwig made this a story about accidental / subconscious jealousy. Frances's life is pretty terrible. She has lived this life of self-delusion, convincing herself that she is deserving of all success. (I refuse to crap on millennials right now. While this is a big danger sign to millennials, millennials are so much more valuable than anyone is aware of.) But she is prideful and desperate to prove that she can succeed. It comes down to the unfairness of life. Why does Sophie get to move on with life and, more so, why does Sophie deserve to do that without me? That's a heavy idea. It is so interesting seeing Frances lash out at those people around her when they leave her in the dust. She rarely breaks down, but that's the truth. I went through a period of travelling around trying to make connections and redefine myself. Frances just makes a lot of sense.
I regret trashing this movie a little bit. The direction choices I think are a bit lazy and a desperate attempt for Baumbach to regain his street cred. Like Wes Anderson's middle movies, he seems very self aware. Also, there could have been some more innovative choices. But at its core, Frances Ha is a great examination of what arrested development really looks like. It is a bit of a wake up call film without ever being preachy. It kind of says that people need to go through what Frances does to redefine herself. OH MY GOSH, is that what the title means? Is it about her new name and her new definition after she comes to peace with her life choices? Man. Instead of a call to action, maybe this is just the warm blanket. This is to say that if you are willing to make change in your life, those changes will come to something positive. They may not always be what you want those choices to be, but it can be something positive. I know that Gerwig will never give a religious connection to her films, but part of this movie is a look at faith. It's about taking dangerous steps. It's also about leaving Sacramento.
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