Frances Ha: a Review
Went to a screening of Frances Ha after a muy chi-chi crowd Friday night at MoMA was too populous; 20 of us could not be seated. But at the (dull average, no glimmer) screening a few days later, was surprised at the disarming underpresumption of the black & white, 88-minute film written by the quirky mumblecore-ish Noah Baumbach and the even more quirky Greta Gerwig.
What made imperative seeing this film was a rare 100% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. In five years, one has not seen a single other film garner a perfect rating. So it became a definite must-see.
That promotional card the filmmakers use to clarion the film seems to say the protagonist, Frances Hardy, is filled "with such a sweet spirit of Joy," but the promo is off its brunch. The story of a sort of dance-dunce intern at a premium company who kind of flakes out at every turn of life's screw is one of envy and hopelessness, malfunction, depression, losing one's rudder repeatedly in life, and the jealousies that erupt when BFF's (best friends forever, for those out of the linguistic loop) move out and go their separate ways.
Gerwig seems slightly demented, actually, making numerous loopy choices any halfway normal person would avoid. The film's little crunchy chapters are various addresses in the protagonist's peripatetic life, from pal to pad to pal to pad.
Everyone in the microcosmic NYC independent singles life depicted is called "undatable" at some point, signifying either a train wreck no one wants, or [less cataclysmic] unattached for the, say, evening. It's like the mantra in the delicious film Clueless, "As if!" which phrase enjoyed a brief vein of currency for a time.
Director Baumbach (Greenberg, 2010; breakout 2005's The Squid and the Whale, with divorcing duo Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney; Nicole Kidman's bitter story writer in the 2007 Margot at the Wedding) and Gerwig share writing credits for this. She reminds me of a good friend who may be exceedingly unhappy, but soldiers on with a down-in-the-mouth expression and shoulder-language that says I AM MISERABLE -- ask me about it! Or forever keep your distance. But winsome Gerwig flails about with clumsy oafishness and underlying adorableness, I guess.
It also struck one as a slightly less obnoxious version, a kinder cast of characters, and a gentler overall tone, than the acidulous run of ridiculous scrapes, sexcapades and shakes of the often cruel "Girls," making waves far and wide for the season's most irritating (but watchable) nudge, the multi-tatted Lena Dunham. Who has dramatically served herself up a massive course of Gen Y filet by lensing her millennial peeves and griefs and putting them, famously, onto HBO. Some of the nerds and dweebs from "Girls" (notably Adam Driver, the workout ectomorph who is one of Dunham's ex-hookups) appear to be in Frances. But it won't make you want to see this little outing any more. Or less.
Are we being unfair? There is charm to the hapless Frances, and the characters do vent rather refreshingly. It is not, all things considered, a bad effort. Characters hook up in seconds, plop into and out of each other's Murphy beds and lives, share rent like cookies.
Some will like it a lot (Baumbach and Gerwig fans, of course, along with the aforementioned Rotten Tomato reviewers). Some will feel a twinge of pique that they spent a full movie fee for a sort of half-movie experience. And in grungy B/W, yet.
At the very least, it gives you a glimpse of a befuddled 27-year-old unwunderkind trying to find where among her striving achiever compadres and such she fits in. And you do rather feel good when Frances finds an apartment of her very own. And choreographs a rather surprisingly eloquent stage piece.
PS: Even before it officially opened, it fell to 49% popularity. So fleeting, this Hollywood hoopla.