Frances Ha(lladay, seriously, we need to counteract some of the twee, here)

So, Frances Ha.

I can’t figure out why this movie exists. It’s about being twentysomething, directionless and artsy in post-recession New York, but it was directed by highly successful fortysomething director Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote it with indie darling and girlfriend Greta Gerwig. Why is this a topic of interest to them? Maybe they have poor friends. Anyway, Frances Ha follows the eponymous Frances, a Vassar grad who, when we meet her, is living with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of Gordon Sumner aka Sting), in Prospect Heights, and trying to be a modern dancer. And here we hit my first complaint: Greta Gerwig can’t fucking dance. She is not a dancer. This is immediately, abundantly clear. And while Frances is never made out to be a great dancer, she’s supposed to be good enough to have a paying apprenticeship with a modern dance company, and as soon as you see her move you can see how false that rings. Movie, if you want me to be on your character’s side, maybe you should give her a fighting chance of success in her chosen career?

Anyway. We follow Frances through multiple apartments, various work situations, and increasingly poor life choices, culminating in a not-that-serious hit-bottom moment and the eventual getting together of her shit. And this is sort of where I throw up my hands in confusion, because man, this movie was not for me. It’s reasonably enjoyable, and in a lot of ways it gets the cultural markers of being a drifting young artsy New Yorker very extremely right, and while I watched it I definitely felt that I knew people like Frances … but the thing is, I sort of don’t. Frances is falling apart at the seams and basically incapable of social interaction. She’s not particularly sympathetic. I know people who are directionless, and I know people who are struggling, but none of them are as much of a mess as Frances (or at least if they are, they’re better at keeping it together in public than she is). Even at my own most directionless and messed up, I had it more together than she does. And for me, at least, there’s not a lot of charm in watching someone fuck up just enough to feel shitty all the time but not enough to actually fuck up. It just makes me wanna smack them until they get some perspective and then send them to therapy.

At the same time, though, I don’t want to come down too hard on Frances Ha. It’s not badly done. The writing is competent. It’s technically simple but smooth, if a little twee for me (black and white? really? really?). The editing and structure are sometimes very compelling, and the pace is comfortable. I can see how the film speaks to people who feel as much of a mess as Frances is, even they’re not. I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do and accomplishes that skilfully. That thing just doesn’t resonate with me at all. I almost feel like there’s no point in having an opinion on something that is so obviously Not For Me. I can’t figure out why on earth anyone who isn’t a semi-lost twentysomething New Yorker would want to see this or what they might get out of it. It’s niche.

Gerwig delivers a reasonable performance. I don’t like her whole schtick and I’m not persuaded it represents anything of value, but it’s inoffensive. Meryl Streep’s younger daughter, Grace Gummer, pops up as Rachel, one of Frances’ colleagues from the dance company, and not for nothing but I’m suspicious of a movie featuring two otherwise unknown children of famous people. It feels cliquey. Apparently one of the male leads is played by an actor from Girls (Adam Driver as Lev)? Which, yeah. I suspect if you find Girls in some way resonant, this may speak to you also. I wouldn’t watch Girls for love or money. This, at least, is a lot less stupid than that sounds.

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About Sara

I like to talk about media, food, and gender.
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4 Responses to Frances Ha(lladay, seriously, we need to counteract some of the twee, here)

  1. Your first paragraph reminds me of a passage (which I went and hunted down) from the screenwriting manual _Save The Cat_. Now, Save The Cat, is admittedly an extremely commercial book (its writer pens alot of PG family comedies like BLANK CHECK), but it is saying _something_ about what kinds of considerations go into film-making:

    “On this last point, I have particular experience now that I am over 40. Nowadays, I must always catch myself when thinking of my movie heroes. In my mind everyone is 40- And the heroes (in my mind), the ones that I am personally drawn to anyway, are now all “existential heroes” — a little world-weary and yet bravely wise. Yeah! Right! And the audience that’s going to show up for that movie is… well, A.W.O.L. to be honest. (But, if it gets made, the French will hail me as a genius.)

    Whenever I find myself drifting into thinking about writing starring roles for Tim Allen, Steve Martin, or Chevy Chase, I catch myself and realize where I am: youth-obsessed Hollywood. Those guys are fine in ensemble, as part of a four-quadrant family pic, great, but as the lead? Never. Okay, rarely. My solution, once I do catch myself and give up on trying to change things, is to make that great character with the existential dilemma a teenager, and make that married couple who’s having a crisis a twenty-something married couple. This is the crowd that shows up for movies. These are the heroes the audience likes to see onscreen at their local Cineplex.”
    –From Save The Cat, by Gary Snyder

  2. Oh dear, I thought Frances was way less of a mess than I am. I don’t know what this says about me now…

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