Frances Ha

O, the places she’ll go

Frances HaGreta Gerwig’s screenwriting career is promising.  Here, in tandem with director Noah Baumbach, she gives us Frances Ha, in which she plays the title character, a young dancer living with her longtime best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner).  They love each other, but are both straight, and find themselves in sedentary, inert relationships with various boneheads before always coming back to each other.  This little world they’ve created together, illustrated in wonderful opening scenes in which the two share in-jokes, smoke on their porch, and wrestle like children, sees upheaval when Sophie decides to move out.  She’s got a promising job and a dude who wants to marry her.  She’s growing up.  Frances is left with no real friends in New York, and must quickly figure out how to live by herself and/or find new roommates, while also struggling with what to do with her life.  Human problems.

But what follows is not navel-gazing.  Frances embarks upon a quiet journey through the city, first meeting and rooming with Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen) before having to move out due to a lack of rent money.  She visits her parents, has less-than-pleasant encounters with Sophie, travels to Paris alone for a short weekend, and debates with herself and her incredible patient employer, Colleen (Charlotte d’Amboise) whether to pursue dance on her own or stay with her current company, which will have her working a desk job and teaching children when time allows.  All of this is shot in perfectly rustic black-and-white, and Frances’s exploits are far more engaging than any number of suspense thrillers and monster attacks that have been staged in that very same city.

Frances herself is funny, confident, and gentle, though not stereotypically “vulnerable” as we too often require our female protagonists to be.  At one point, she shares something very important to her: always having someone who knows you so well that when you end up at the same party together, all you have to do is catch each other’s eye, and suddenly you’re both immersed in a world that no one else can understand.  Any characters listening must suspect that Frances is pining for an idealized romance, but those of us who saw the opening shots know what she really means.  The film’s ending, which ties off every thread (almost too nicely, really), is an expert example of how to do “optimistic” filmmaking.

Frances Ha is not very concerned with why things happen.  Each segment of Frances’s life plays like its own short film, and I could have easily watched another two hours of that.  Her big decision, however, is made with little explanation, and we want to know how her penultimate encounter with Sophie inspires her to take a leap that she’s avoided throughout the entire film.  What we have in this film outweighs what we don’t, but in a cool indie film about true-to-life characters with whom we get to spend less than 90 minutes, we shouldn’t have to do too much weighing.

This is what we need more of: minimalism.  Nuanced characters.  Thoughtful dialogue wherein you don’t immediately know if the character speaking is right or wrong.  Fearless language.  Female protagonists who don’t fit into any male-invented archetype.  Male supporting characters who aren’t perverts.  Serious filmmakers telling important stories without first having to sit through ten Hollywood board meetings led by people who don’t watch movies.

Frances Ha (2013); written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach; directed by Noah Baumbach; starring Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s