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Frances Ha – Review
July 27, 2013
Entering a cinema with high hopes is always daunting. I couldn’t see any way that I could dislike a quirky American comedy written by Noah Baumbach with Greta Gerwig, his girlfriend who also stars as the title character. If I hadn’t enjoyed this film I would have despaired and then checked the black hole where my heart should be.
Baumbach, co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr Fox with Wes Anderson but also gained critical consensus with semi-autobiographical comedy The Squid and the Whale which marked his directorial debut. He has a magical knack as a director and writer for being able to capture people and relationships in a simple, bittersweet way. His co-writer (and girlfriend), the charming Greta Gerwig, rose to indie fame as the the star of mumblecore, independent U.S films such as LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends before being welcomed and appreciated by mainstream audiences starring alongside Ben Stiller in Baumbach’s film Greenberg. Yes, this is quite a build up to a review but with the purpose of conveying the build up I experienced entering the cinema for the screening as part of The East End Film Festival. Expectations were higher than the empire state building.
The inspiration of French New Wave cinema, Woody Allen and screwball 50’s comedy on Baumbach is evident in this film, with its heart-warming character-driven plot having been shot in black and white. This stylistic choice could have been passed off as being twee but the quality of the writing allows this film to dodge that critical bullet and simply adds to its lovability. This is a melodrama about how life is not black and white and New York looks real but at the same time beautiful as a reflection of how Frances pictures life in her head as she struggles with the transition from student/graduate to ‘adult’ life. The beauty stems from both writers’ love for their home city of New York, with Paris acting as a brief, debasing and symbolic contrast.
Frances Ha is coming to terms with the fact that her life, career, situation and friends are changing. It’s a classic quarter life crisis that was an interesting watch as I myself just turned 27 – I know a lady shouldn’t reveal her age but, well, there it’s written now and maybe as part of my own crisis. Anyway, back to Frances’ crisis, which all begins when her best friend moves out and eventually settles down with her boyfriend, coupled with having to figure out where to go with her not quite fledgling (in a never got off the ground or left the nest) career as a dancer. Frances faces big decisions and it’s entertaining watching her avoid them.
Frances is not one of the brooding young women often portrayed (think Anna Karina) in French New wave Cinema, but more a playful, imaginative and quirky character who is definitely a little out there and not handling her reality all to well – then again how many 27 year olds are? Coincidentally 27 is the age Baumbach was when he made his personal breakout film, The Squid and the Whale. Frances is flawed, open and relatable, owing a lot to Gerwig’s ability to really throw herself into a character and her competence as a comedy actor; her trip fall is first class. In this case she is portraying a character she understands well, having co-written the film with Baumbach, and this definitely comes across on screen.
Needless to say life for Frances spirals downhill. There’s a cringe-ridden dinner party containing some wonderfully witty and entertaining dialogue and characters. Said dinner party results in Frances booking an impromptu fleeting trip to Paris on a credit card. To avoid further spoilers, I’ll simply say that this film shows how life can be surprising and is a comforting and funny piece of cinema. A highly welcome addition to summer’s film releases and another excellent choice for The East End Film Festival. Whatever age you may be, go see it and prepare to smile.
Frances Ha is out in UK cinemas this weekend.