Frances Ha Review
By Bret Dorman
There are many reasons why I can like a movie: style, engaging writing, beautiful cinematography, powerful acting, humor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, mind boggling martial arts choreography, thought provoking ideas, and more. But every so often I find a film that resonates with me personally, a film with such insight to throw the typical criteria out the window. It makes astute observations about the world and finds a way to put them in an interesting narrative.
When I saw The Graduate it was just days before my 21st birthday and I had no discernable plans for the future. The more I watch Taxi Driver the more I connect with Travis Bickles’ youthful testosterone and contradicting health habits/personal philosophies. Last year, Silver Lining Playbook told the story of an easily stressed-out guy who had to move back in with his parents. Hey, I just moved back in with my parents!
Frances Ha also connected with me on a lot of levels. But the movie does more than provide an opportunity for me to recognize things that I find familiar with my life. It pays beautiful homage to New York City and its youthful inhabitants, while allowing room for its main character to dance, play, and grow.The Story: Frances (Greta Gerwig) bounces around between apartments, jobs, and relationships while struggling to get her act together without losing her peppy optimism. As her roommate/soulmate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) becomes more of an adult, Frances finds the transition harder to make, thus getting into increasingly irresponsible or awkward situations. Also, she likes to wear her socks in bed.
I don’t like it when people assume every film character has to be likable. Heck, in character studies (like Frances Ha) not even the main character needs to be likable. Having said that, there is a balance that needs to be found between likable and annoying. Annoying can be a matter of taste or undeniable, like a one-note character and spends the entire movie in one-note situations designed to showcase their “annoying feature” as a good quality (like in Happy-Go-Lucky, a film I found annoying). However, if a character doesn’t grow, the movie can feel stuck or uninteresting. And I especially don’t like it when ‘bad’ characters are rewarded for their actions (how I feel about the main character in High Fidelity). Frances is hopelessly optimistic and relentlessly childish, but we forgive her because the road ahead of her isn’t easy. She doesn’t go around trying to solve everyone’s problems nor does she demand the universe conform to her wants. Frances is a character who makes bold and brash decisions, then sulks in the aftermath before going out and trying to make the most of her situation.There are certain things in Frances Ha that make it hard to like without being artsy farsty. It’s in black and white. Its main character is adorably quirky. Characters are very self aware. Influences of Manhattan and Breathless, among other films, are very present. In some other world Bizarro Me is ranting on how this movie is pretentious and dumb. But since this is Super Me (how I refer to myself, especially in job interviews) and I did like this movie, I am specifically seeing how all these elements help the film. The black and white adds a romanticism and a daydream-like quality. This feels like how Frances might remember her past. And yes, she is eccentric. But her quirks extend beyond one simple reoccurring gimmick and her character makes interesting and irrational choices. And while the characters are very self aware, their witty non-sequiturs aren’t the focus of the movie, just fun asides. Besides, we live in a world where Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm exist, so it seems completely acceptable realistic characters would call out social norms and awkwardness. Is there an air of “cool” around everything? Yes. But it’s a realistic character study. Events, characters, and conversations are dramatized for entertainment value. Otherwise it would be boring. And we have a name for real, boring movies. Documentaries. (genre burn!!!)
Frances Ha is the first movie all year that had me experiencing joy. Don’t get me wrong; I was thoroughly entertained by Iron Man 3. I laughed out loud during This Is The End. And I was pleasantly disturbed by Stoker. Man of Steel‘s punches got a very audible and visceral reaction out me in a good way. But none of those movies elicited the simple and pure sense of joy I felt when Frances found a new apartment to live in (something that happens several times) and for a moment, a huge obstacle was presented and then solved. The movie cuts to bombastic music with Frances running and twirling down the street as the camera races to stay in front of her. It felt… good. In fact, even though this movie highlights a lot of (personally familiar) character flaws, it feels positive about finding a way to do what you like without sacrificing becoming an adult. Every age feels like an important age and this movie isn’t about one of the bigger milestones. It’s not about completely redefining yourself in ways that just don’t happen. It’s about being 27 (an age which I will be by the end of the week). Issues in the movie aren’t life or death, but having to choose between pursuing a dream career–one that you are only mediocre at–versus taking a more bureaucratic job associated with that dream gig is very relatable to me. I’m not against Hollywood endings, but Frances Ha manages to feel uplifting, real, and comforting all while being slightly fantastical.My movie tastes aren’t defined simply by “Indies vs. Blockbusters” and I think each type has its good, its bad, and its wannabes. I’m sure many see Frances Ha as a wannabe, but I don’t think being able to see the strings automatically makes a movie that. I think good filmmakers make films for specific audiences. And sometimes those audiences are very smart, sharp, film-literate people who get everything you’re doing. In that case, you aren’t going to outsmart or “out-cinema” these people. The best thing you can do is embrace your style and inspirations, let them inform your decisions, and take joy from them. In that regard, I know what Noah Baumbach was going for with this movie. And in the end, I’m willing to find the joy from the character’s small victories and coolness from its overall style. This may not be a movie for everyone, but it’s definitely one for me.
In Conclusion, just because Frances is a flawed character doesn’t make Frances Ha a flawed film. In fact, this entire movie plays out like some sort of feverish fantasy someone might have while bored at work. We all wish we could live our lives care free and without concrete commitment, but just when we get to that point of pumping ourselves up enough to do something about it our boss tells us to get back to work. Being happy in life isn’t always about a dream romance, vacation, or job; its a lens to look at your current place and know if its where you need to be at the moment.
Final Grade: A
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