Frances Ha (2013)
Frances Ha or Frances Hmmm seems to be the prevailing wit when it comes to Noah Baumbach’s latest film, an unvarnished valentine to middle period Woody Allen in this brisk comedic character study of twenty somethings aimlessly weathering the change from post college uncertainty to ambivalent adult responsibility. Baumbach is something of a polarizing figure, many find his narcissistic films and his navel gazing upper Middle class mannequins to be the very height of ‘first world problem’ tedium, but the likes of The Squid & The Whale and Margot & The Wedding have certainly retained their acolytes, whilst 2010’s Greenberg was judged a step too far in some quarters with its uniquely irritating pantheon of dislikeable characters, mostly personified in Ben Stillers frantic failure. I’m kinda in the middle of this debate, my eyes don’t light up in glee when I hear of the announcement of Baumbach’s next semi-autobiographical spotlight of the East Coast elites, but you can’t deny they are usually pretty funny – a quality which is rarer and rarer in contemporary comedies – and I can just about stomach some of the American idiosyncracies, the complaints about rent costs in the West Village, the airy references to Kandinsky or Baudelaire, the endless scenes of faintly pretentious souls wandering through the Guggenheim or attending a fabulous new interactive piece on the outskirts of Central Park. The new film Frances Ha has gained some notoriety due to some behind the scenes gossip as Baumbach has split with his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh and shacked up with Gerwig as his new artistic muse, but let’s just focus on the film as its own entity shall we? I ain’t no gossip muse so begone to TMZ or The Huffington Post if that needles your idiom whilst I relax with this particular delicious double deluxe caramel whipped Latvian hinted latte – tasty….
Francis (Gerwig who also co-wrote the film) is an amiable and slightly bewildered 27-year-old in the Big Apple, skint and uncertain she drifts through life with an amiable globularity. As an aspiring professional dancer she desperately wants to be picked up for a new touring season but isn’t exactly driven with the ruthless passion for success of some of her peers, many of whom seem to be finally gaining traction in both their personal and professional lives. When her best bud forever Sophie (newcomer Mickey Sumner) fails to renew the lease on their tiny shared apartment Frances falls in with a male dominated enclave of similarly striving souls, romance may be brewing but this isn’t the only defining purpose of her journey as career strife, financial woes and interpersonal impasse’s send her on a confused odyssey to find herself and her current position in this confused, chaotic, yet charming and ineffectually inoculated world.
From a purely cinematic perspective it was luxurious to relax into some sumptuous black and white cinematography which lacquers the piece with an unshakable sense of Manhattan, I have no doubts that this was intentional but it seems a potentially foolish strategy considering the aligned audience who may be attracted to this character portrait of an idiom in flux whom could unfavourably judge the piece against Woody Allen’s alleged masterpiece. I have no torch to bear for that overrated picture nor the likes of Stardust Memories or others of that period, so I found Frances Ha to be sporadically and genuinely amusing, crucially Gerwig is immediately likeable in the title role and thank god she wasn’t again the insufferable centrepiece of the film Lola Versus which I positively loathed and still suspect is a meta-hipster satirical take on that insufferable acceleration of mumblecore mediocrity. It might be difficult for some to connect with a generation whom are umbilically linked to their phones, to centre their priorities in a woozy way around immaterial artistic endeavours or irrelevant parochial concerns, yet It has a neo-realist authenticity, with speech cadences and observations which are warm, amusing, and occasionally universal.
Some moments are observationally golden, my favourite being when Francis runs into a passing friend and his new girlfriend when she suddenly starts reciting chapter and verse her complex plans for the weekend to which her new acquaintance quizzically retorts ‘I don’t know who you are’ in response to this unwanted avalanche of information, a very prescient capture of current social media protocols. Baumbach’s brisk editing pattern keeps the tone light and frothy, with one particular stand out sequence occurring when Frances visits her parents for Christmas and her adventures are presented in a wonderfully arranged succession of simple, surrendered snippets. Quite refreshingly this is a modern film which doesn’t assume that a woman’s sole purpose in life is to find a man as the only route to true happiness, in fact although romance does flutter these are passing ships in the night which do not solely define our titular heroine, as her career and family, friendships and hobbies are just as character relating as her sexual partners. As an alternate change of pace and tone for silly summer season Francis Ha is a buoyant breeze of a life in advance – will Baumbach follow the example?