Monday, December 02, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Frances Ha (2013) ****

R, 84 min.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Charlotte d’Amboise, Grace Gummer, Patrick Heusinger

You’ll hear a lot of comparisons to Woody Allen when people speak of the Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig movie “Frances Ha”. Certainly there must have been some conscious choice on the filmmakers’ parts to have their fresh film match the look and feel of some of Allen’s films, especially his black and white “Manahattan”. Gerwig is also one of the closest things in the female form to Allen in her ability to just let her self go and yet convey a self-consciousness that informs her comic being. But, I hesitate to leave this wonderful film at Woody Allen comparisons alone. It deserves more credit than homage.

Frances is a dancer trying to survive in New York City. She lives with her best friend from college, Sophie. The two have a relationship that might make others think they were lesbians, but they’re straight. When Sophie decides to move out and later finds herself in a serious relationship, Frances’ life enters a period of upheaval. She has to scrounge for a new place to live. She is “temporarily” let go from the dance company in which she interns. I don’t think she’s a very good dancer, but the woman who runs the company likes Frances’ imagination.

It’s hard not to like her imagination. She’s quite intoxicating, although when she gets intoxicated, she gets a little nasty. I can’t help but think much of this is fairly autobiographical for Gerwig, who is intoxicating in the same way Frances is. There’s a scene at a dinner party where she tries to tell one of the much better off attendees what it is she is really looking for in a man. It’s easy to see why the other woman looks at her in bewilderment, and yet I can also understand what Frances is getting at. She’s not crazy; that’s just how she sounds.

I suppose it’s not just Gerwig that’s so appealing about this film. The whole thing is quite intoxicating. The black and white cinematography gives it a distinction and somehow seems to be the only way to really see New York City. When Frances runs down the avenue with David Bowie’s “Modern Love” on the soundtrack, it’s impossible not to want to be in that place at that time. This is an amazing phenomenon only made possible in the movies, and great movies incorporate these moments in to an entire experience that can place you in that moment in that time.

In the end, “Frances Ha” is really a love story about two friends. I loved the way Baumbach incorporated Frances’ explanation of what she’s really looking for in love into the final shot of the film to create one of those sublime film moments where you can understand everything that you’re seeing without having to think about it. This is one of the best films of the year.

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