Saturday, June 1, 2013

Frances Ha

I spent most of the movie Frances Ha trying to figure out where I know Greta Gerwig from. After it was over I realized she was in Damsels in Distress, which I did not see, but which they ran ads for for months.

Phew!

Oh, the movie? Well, it's from Noah Baumbach, beloved of critics and less beloved of audiences, who helmed the autobiographical The Squid and the Whale and the presumably less autobiographical Greenberg (which I did not see but which also featured Gerwig), and who is a frequent co-conspirator of Wes Anderson, having written The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Madagascar 3. (One of these things is not like the other, eh, what?)

Gerwig co-writes the story of a no-longer-quite-young dancer who's an apprentice with a local dance company and sort-of couch surfing as she tries to find a way to support herself in New York City.

When we begin the movie, she's living with her BFF, and way more into that relationship than she is with her boyfriend. Said boyfriend asks her to move in with him, she demurs, citing her lease with her BFF, and the two break up.

Honestly, I thought during this scene, "Well, no, obviously he's gay, so you're not his type," but I realized later that these guys aren't gay, exactly, but hipsters. More salient to the story, I guess, is that most everyone in Frances' circle is rich. Not her, of course, so while everyone is kind of laying around doing nothing and making the sorts of decisions that would probably haunt them later in life if they weren't rich, Frances is kind of awkwardly trying to fit in, or avoid having to fit in, or convince them that, no, for her a week in Paris isn't a reality.

There's a little bit of a Sara Rue vibe here. Where Rue was more adorable-but-occasionally-awful, Gerwig is more of a not-quite-sure-if-she's-cute deadpan. As I said to The Boy upon exiting the theater: "If you ever act like any of the people in this movie, I will have to punch you in the stomach."

I said that to The Flower as well, but she passed on seeing the film (described as "a woman pursues her dreams with increasing vigor even as they seem less and less likely") because she said it sounded less funny than awful.

It's simultaneously funny and awful. Like Larry David for the college set.

Even with the odds stacked against it—oh, Woody Allen's Manhattan is a big inspiration here, with the film being in black-and-white—we actually did enjoy it.

The real premise here is "Frances grows up." Reluctantly, for sure. But without a doubt. Her character is presented with ruin, or modification of certain aspects of her lifestyle, and how to reconcile her dreams with reality. She's surrounded by narcissists, but she is one herself. At least up until she realizes she can't afford it.

I think we were kind of annoyed by the movie's reluctance to portray reality in some ways. For example, Frances is a dancer and is an apprentice (at 27, mind you). She's also a self-admitted klutz and Gerwig seems really ungainly. (I don't know the reality but Gerwig is least dance-y actress I can think of. Maybe Cybill Shepard but Shepard was an uncontested beauty. So maybe you wouldn't notice. But I digress.)

At the same time, it's not impossible for someone to be ungainly in regular life and graceful on stage. And the dance company direct her compliments her on her dancing at one point. But is she just being nice? She also encourages Frances to choreograph, but not in a way that says "You can't dance. Do something else."

Actually, the dance company director was very hard to process, as she's seems completely sincere and good-hearted in her dealings with Frances. A grown up, but a "good guy".

So, I guess what makes this work for me is that if these be hipsters, and Baumbach and Gerwig (a couple, by the way) are certainly beloved by hipsters, they are not glamorizing it. The process of growing up means getting some skin in the game, making some hard choices, and trying to find fulfillment (even at the risk of failure). And certainly not worrying too hard about how others perceive you.

Under 90 minutes. Vulgar in parts, as  you'd expect, but dialogue-wise only. The most graphic language is front-loaded, probably to grab the audience's attention.

Gerwig works as does bestie Mickey Sumner (whom you know best from...from...well, from being Sting and Trudie's kid, I guess). To say that the guys all ran together is to demean things that run together. Not so much the actors' faults, I would say, as the script, which is really about Frances, and Frances' relationship with Sophie (Sumner).

Tony-award winning Charlotte d'Amboise is a standout as the dance company director, and since her part is relatively small, this is interesting. I don't know if it's the fact that her character is sincere, or she's just got stage presence that the other, younger, non-stage actors don't have.

Anyway, nice little film overall. Not for everyone, obviously.

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