Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Frances Ha: Frances Enjoyable

Movie Review: Frances Ha

Director: Noah Baumbach

Reviewed: 2 June 2013

jamesintexas rating--***

Shot in gorgeous black and white, Noah Baumbach's new film "Frances Ha" consists of an episodic structure of addresses and an endearing female protagonist. Through a series of very short cuts and scenes, Baumbach establishes Frances (Greta Gerwig) as one of a mercurial temperament, a twenty-seven year old dance apprentice in New York City, broke but not broken, intertwined in her deep friendship with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), running through the streets, laughing and leaping. The loosely constructed plot has about five movements all related to places that Frances lives or visits.  Her complexity as a character grows as she interacts with new roommates, struggles with changing friendships, and slowly finds her way.

Gerwig is a standout here, and in multiple scenes she captures the awkward zaniness of Frances as well as her deep sadness.  However, to be clear, Frances is no manic pixie dream girl; her development works because of her completeness as a character with flaws and talents, dreams and self-sabotage.  Baumbach's construction of the film leads to jarring moments and tonal shifts where I was not sure whether to laugh or cringe.  In multiple scenes, Baumbach arranges conversations at cross purposes where four characters interact in hilarious and unsettling ways due to the stillness of his camera and the script (written by Baumbach and Gerwig) assigning who talks when.  It is inevitable to compare the film to Lena Dunham's show "Girls," but I think the style compresses so much in the brief chapters; often, Frances announces an intention to do something and the subsequent shot reveals her doing the exact opposite.

A line in Michael Dies's graduation speech resonated with me recently; I saw the film the same day as our high school's graduation.  He quoted from the television show "House" where a character stated, "Life is a series of rooms and who we get stuck in a room with adds up to what our lives are." June is the season of graduations, of moving out and across the country, of good-byes or just the last time you see someone.  Appropriately, Frances's journey takes her to the past (Sacramento, California to her parents as well as Poughkeepsie, New York to her alma mater) as well as the future.  The final moments of the film are revelatory and epiphanic in that great way movies can be, assembling everyone that has come before into one room.  And the last shot in the film is just lovely.

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