Thursday, November 14, 2013

Let's Review Something: Frances Ha


I’m not entirely familiar with Noah Baumbach’s body of work.  I’ve seen two of his other films, ‘Greenburg’ and ‘The Squid & the Whale’ and I really liked both of them.  They shared a similar tonal approach and yet ‘The Squid & the Whale’ felt very much like a Wes Anderson film to me, while ‘Greenburg’ felt a little more grounded in realism (not saying that it’s the better film, because it’s not).  With ‘Frances Ha’, Baumbach adds yet another layer to his stylistic approach and delivers something I wasn’t expecting and really responded to.

This is, by far, my favorite of the three films.

Briskly paced and yet filled to the brim with development, ‘Frances Ha’ has a real firm hold on its identity and it understands how to engineer itself to be as effective as possible.  There is no fat here, the film just flows from scene to scene, and the character development here (more than one character even) feels so defined and so intended.  You understand these characters, where they started and where they are headed.  This may be my favorite character study of the year so far, and it certainly is one of the finest ensembles (so uniformly organic and honest).
 
Gerwig is so refreshingly 'awkward' and sincere...

The film tells the story of Frances Haliday.  Frances is in her late twenties, living in New York with her best friend Sophie and attempting (however marginally) to become a dancer.  She’s stuck.  She doesn’t have the motivation necessary to grow up, and she’s apathetic (maybe too harsh a word) about it, completely content to just be a kid for life.  Like she admits, she’s not a real person yet and it shows in the way that she navigates through life.  Life is about to throw her a curveball, and jumpstart her motivation. 

Sophie grows up and moves on.


Starting with Sophie moving out and then trickling down into every aspect of her life (broke, couch jumping, bridge burning, friend losing, job losing, dreams crushed), Frances faces some ‘real world problems’ here that are amplified by the consistency of it all.  As she unravels, Frances weaves through her circumstances with an air of naivety, as if it really isn’t sinking in how desperate she’s become, until it all comes together in the end.  Broaching some really intricate themes, ‘Frances Ha’ really finds ways to build such a well-rounded and relatable character, despite her obvious quirks and grating persona.  Yes, Frances is hard to take at times and yet she is so believable.  This is thanks, in large part, to Gerwig’s astonishing performance, but this role is perfect for her.  What appears like an easy transition though (just play quirky) is harder than it seems, as Greta has to shade Frances with so many unsaid emotions, and she does a wonderful job of allowing Frances’s reaction shots to speak for themselves.
 
Gerwig finds layers that are unspoken, but genuinely felt...


I want to applaud Baumbach, who shows so much style and grace while directing this film.  It could have been very average or run of the mill, but instead he imparts a real radiance to the film.  His progression of story reminded me of early Woody Allen, and the way he builds his premise reminded me of the classic comedies of yesteryear.  In fact, the decision to shoot in B&W was rather inspired because it called to mind those quirky comedies of the 30’s.

Not only is the film beautiful to look at, but it has a real soul, a real ‘beat’.

Gerwig and Sumner are OSCAR WORTHY here!
I give this a very solid A, and it’s one of the highlights of my year so far (such a great year we’re having).  Oscar will ignore this completely (UGH!) but I would love to see some critics love for Gerwig and Sumner (Spirits may bite) and the screenplay could make a play if the field thins out, but right now it’s really, really stacked.  Spirits may shower this, but the lack of attention at Gothams was alarming.  

7 comments:

  1. I hope the film gets some recognition as I think it is Noah Baumbach's best work so far. I've seen all of his films and this one made me smile more than anything he's done as I think it's the culmination of everything he's done. I would recommend seeing his first film Kicking & Screaming (not the film starring Will Ferrell of the same name), then Mr. Jealousy, Margot at the Wedding, and if you ever find it (though it's currently on Showtime/the Movie Channel), Highball.

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    1. I really do need to dig into his filmography more. Thanks for the suggestions.

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  2. Great review! I just got done writing my review of this too. I liked it way more than I probably should've. I'm sure it will get some Indie Spirit noms!

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    1. I need to pop over and check out your review!

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  3. Excellent review! It's firmly in my top 5 right now, but I suppose it could get knocked out. This year is just too great! I really hope Gerwig and Sumner at least get some critics' awards love.

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    1. I love it the more I think about it and am thinking about putting it in my top 5 right now too!!! I'm sure you noticed that Gomez has been dethroned and that Sumner is my #1 Supporting Actress choice ATM. This year is too good. I've only seen 35 films and I could honestly close up my ballots right now and be satisfied with where they are.

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    2. Yay! I know, right? Yeah, I saw that Sumner wins, but she's a very worthy winner. She's probably my #3 behind Gomez and Verdu.

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