Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: Frances Ha (2012)

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on November 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Frances Ha (2012)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

Directed by Noah Baumbach, and co-written with his romantic muse and creative collaborator Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is the most recent feature film from an already prolific and talented American director. Shedding his often-misanthropic worldview for that of his more whimsically hopeful partner Gerwig, Baumbach’s most recent film is decidedly more spontaneous than any of his previous films to date. Where Baumbach’s work prior to Frances Ha has been a bit more intelligently witty and meticulously plotted, his new film is delightfully care free, borrowing the breezy style of Goddard’s films from the French New Wave, while situating itself quiet nicely into the laissez-faire malaise of the more contemporary Mumble-core film movement, of which Greta Gerwig is an unofficial queen. Revolving around the lives of Gerwig’s Frances Halladay and her close-knit group of friends, Frances Ha provides a brilliant depiction of 21st century 20 and 30 something’s, restlessly underemployed, and searching for meaning in a sub-culture defined by its asocial affinity for ironic detachment and comfortable apathy. Baumbach has never felt quiet this care free, and Gerwig has never starred in a film quiet this well written and constructed, which makes Frances Ha the perfect blend of two distinctive creative personalities working in seamless cooperation with one another.

At the center of Baumbach’s and Gerwig’s new film is the study of the platonic relationship, as it is defined by and between two women. While Frances’ relationship with her closest friend and confidant Sophie tends to verge towards romantic intimacy, Baumbach’s direction serves to carefully rein in the more tender scenes from becoming too suggestive of a relationship inclusive of sex. Without overstating the nature of Frances and Sophie as a couple, Baumbach’s film presents the two characters emphatically, giving them ample room to speak for themselves and emote the elusive essence of a true love, based on respect, compassion, and thoughtful criticism. It’s rare to observe such an honest replication of friendship on film, and even rarer when it comes to finding a film about a friendship between two women that doesn’t placate to the male gaze. Like Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, Greta Gerwig offers a unique and thoroughly contemporary look at young women now, refreshingly independent and wickedly intelligent.

In order to examine the essence of 21st century youth, fresh out of college and desperate for employment that doesn’t compromise the individual spirit’s artistic ambition, Baumbach borrows heavily from the French New Wave in terms of style. Using the potentially troubling and rising trend in contemporary art cinema of re-acquisitioning black and white film for aesthetic flourish, Frances Ha looks remarkably refined, re-appropriating black and white cinematography for a film that would feel naked without it. The slap-dash pacing and impromptu settings lend to performances that feel spontaneous, reminiscent of Goddard’s Breathless without coming across as instances of self-aware cinematic referencing. Paired perfectly with Baumbach’s Neo-New Wave visual style is Gerwig’s impeccable theatrical timing, honed as a lead performer and writer within the Mumble-core film movement. Offering up dialogue that is decidedly understated and underwritten, the characters in Frances Ha feel incredibly realistic when compared to the characters in more popular Hollywood dramas, which often come off as over-articulate and over-produced when compared to real life.

Not since Kicking and Screaming has Baumbach made a film quite this unapologetically sophomoric, and Gerwig is in top form as Baumbach’s muse and lead actor. Frances Ha is a remarkable film about contemporary young adulthood, posing its questions while sympathizing with its subjects in a way that feels conspiratorial in nature. Like Kicking and Screaming, Frances Ha is a film about youth that is kind and forgiving with its subject, possibly because its director and writer finds little in common with those that are of his own age and social demographic. While it might have been interesting to see where Baumbach might have gone creatively had he stayed with his former partner, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach’s work doesn’t seem to be suffering from a want of relevancy or liveliness, which is often the case with directors at this stage in their creative outpouring. Fresh off of their initial partnership developed during the filming of Baumbach’s Greenberg, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have proven that they are a creative team in cinema to be applauded and awaited with eager anticipation, and Frances Ha is further proof of their particular genius.

Frances Ha is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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