Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: "Frances Ha"

I have been a fan of Noah Baumbach since his first collaboration with Wes Anderson. He co-wrote Anderson's 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The first Baumbach film that I saw was 2005's The Squid and the Whale, a film I still recommend to this day. And I may be one of the only people to have truly enjoyed Margot at the Wedding (2007). Though I was a little disappointed by his 2010 film Greenberg. While I was less than impressed with the film as a whole, I was immediately intrigued by Greta Gerwig. Gerwig has done little to regain momentum after Greenberg, but since becoming romantically involved with Baumbach in 2011 (after his divorce from frequent collaborator Jennifer Jason Leigh), Gerwig has found a renewed sense of inspiration. She co-wrote the screenplay for Frances Ha with Noah Baumbach and stars as the title character. Frances Ha draws many comparisons to Woody Allen. First and foremost, it is beautifully filmed in black and white like Allen's 1979 masterpiece Manhattan. Baumbach has even admitted it was a conscious choice to evoke Allen's film. As a self-proclaimed Woody Allen-phile, I see a stronger connection to Allen's classic Annie Hall (1977). Frances is a modernized version of Diane Keaton's Annie Hall, at a stage in her life before she meets Allen's Alvy Singer. Gerwig makes Frances Ha a frantic and clumsy cousin to Annie Hall. Frances Ha is the type of film that hinges entirely on one performance. Greta Gerwig has made Frances an endearing and sympathetic character despite her multitude of faults. There is such colourful texture in her performance despite the black and white of the film. In spite of very clear allusions to the most classic of Woody Allen's vast filmography, Frances Ha is a beautiful and charming story of a woman's forced quest of self discovery. 

Frances is a twenty-seven years old. She finds work as a dancer, though she does not seem to truly enjoy the craft. She lives with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Summer), with whom she has a codependent relationship. Frances loyalty to Sophie runs so deep that she breaks up with her boyfriend to continue to live with Sophie when he asks her to move in. This backfires on her when Sophie announces that she is moving out to live with her boyfriend. Frances' relationship with Sophie crumbles and Frances embarks on a series of misadventures. 

Even without the appearance of Adam Driver, Frances Ha also draws a considerable amount of comparisons to Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls. Like Dunham's Hannah Horvath, Gerwig's Hannah is a wannabe artist floundering in her post-college life with a severe lack of available funds. We have all been through something similar. There is a point in our lives where we try to find an identity while desperately clinging to the familiarity of our youth. Through Noah Baumbuch's storytelling and directing, along with Greta Gerwig's masterful performance, Frances Ha is surprisingly romantic. The more I reflect on the film, the more I fall in love with it. I watched Frances stumble through life and make mistake after mistake, but I empathized with her choices. She is exactly the type of woman I would love to befriend. She makes choices based on emotion and is able to live through the consequences. Frances Ha is one of the best films I have seen this year with perhaps the single best performance from Greta Gerwig. 

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4. 

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