Posts Tagged ‘Frances Ha’

It sometimes seems to me that there’s no rational system responsible for determining which films get a full theatrical release and which end up languishing on obscure DVD releases. I mean, I know it’s the middle of summer, and wise counter-programming means that it makes sense to to release something quiet and quirky that will appeal to a more female-skewed audience than a muscular and loud comic-book adaptation, but there are surely lots of low-budget, low-fi, unconventional indie films contending for a theatrical run at any given moment – how do they decide which one actually gets a shot?

The lucky winner this weekend in the UK was Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote with the leading lady, Greta Gerwig. Given that this is a film of a type which actually feels terribly familiar regardless of the specific details, I suspect that it is in cinemas due to an incremental drip-drip-drip of minor points in its favour: Baumbach is a writer and director with a certain pedigree, both indie (The Squid and the Whale) and mainstream (Madagascar 3), while Gerwig has slowly been accumulating a solid CV as an actress in various comedy-dramas – I first saw her in Damsels in Distress, then again in Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love.


The Allen connection is perhaps pertinent, as Frances Ha at times seems to be consciously aping the great man’s work on a number of levels. This is the story – and I suppose you could say it’s only a story in the broadest sense of the term – of Frances (Gerwig), a not-entirely-successful ballet dancer living in New York. Her life is quite chaotic, but at least she knows she can depend on her best friend and flatmate, Sophie (Mickey Sumner, sprung from the loins of Sting). But then Sophie decides to move out, and Frances can’t afford to pay the rent on her own.

So begins an odyssey of flatsharing and other temporary living arrangements, strained relationships and unwise snap decisions in all areas of life. It would be misleading to suggest that nothing actually happens in this film, because relationships break down, people go on impromptu weekend breaks in Paris, waste baskets are vomited into and dinner parties go awkwardly – but at the same time it doesn’t really cohere as a narrative or go anywhere except in the broadest terms.

The slightly disjointed storyline and focus on a certain kind of arty New Yorker do recall a Woody Allen film from the great man’s middle period, as does the black and white photography – Baumbach has admitted this is an homage to Manhattan, amongst others (though there is a level of frankness in the dialogue not to be found in your average Allen movie). That said, it differs from the best Woody Allen movies in the key respect that it is not nearly as sharp or funny or focussed.

Frances Ha is a movie which has enjoyed good notices pretty much across the board, being  acclaimed as ‘hilarious’, ‘irresistible’, and so on. I would tend to agree with these, with the proviso that this is a hilarious and irresistible comedy that didn’t make me laugh very much and didn’t effortlessly win me over, either.

I’m as surprised as anyone to be so lukewarm about this film, as I really do like Greta Gerwig as an actress and there isn’t anything about it that actually annoyed me. Gerwig’s performance is winning, but as this film is essentially a vehicle for her particular talents this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. And the story has a certain poignancy: it evokes the feeling of being stuck in a post-adolescent mode of life while all your friends have moved on into adulthood rather well, even if some of the set-pieces come across as a bit contrived.

I suppose my problem is that this film really exists as a character piece, a look at Frances and her life – and because she and it come across as so improbable, the whole enterprise feels a bit insubstantial. This is partly down to the script, which isn’t witty or tight enough to make you prepared to ignore the various improbabilities going on, and partly down to the casting. I like Greta Gerwig a lot. But I still think it’s a bit disingenous to cast someone so obviously bright, charismatic, and attractive as a ditzy, undateable flake. Then again, am I being too hard on the film? Hmmm.

Well, I didn’t actually dislike it – quite the opposite, if we’re honest. I just didn’t have an uproarious, life-affirming time watching it. I suppose I’ve just seen a few too many New York-set slice-of-life character studies about quirky arty types. It is nicely put together, bits of it have a sort of overall ring of truth, and the performances are generally good. But it’s not one of the best films I’ve seen recently, nor really the most entertaining film I’ve seen with Greta Gerwig in it. I still think she is an actress to watch for, though.

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