Tuesday, January 21, 2014

FRANCES HA - FILM REVIEW (2012 - Directed by Noah Baumbach)


“As individuals, we find that our development depends upon the people whom we meet in the course of our lives.  (These people include the authors whose books we read, and characters in works of fiction and history.)  The benefit of these meetings is due as much to the differences as to the resemblances; to the conflict, as well as the sympathy, between persons.”
- T.S. Eliot
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This film is still growing on me.  But I certainly cannot understand all the comparisons that have been made between it and HBO’s Girls.  Beyond mere trivial similarities – both have single women protagonists struggling through the transition into responsible adult life – the two are entirely unlike each other in atmosphere, aesthetic and philosophical themes, acting ability, script writing and … heart.  You might as well compare the “similarities” between Portlandia and Another Year (both are concerning middle-class lives within distinctive suburban communities) or between Entourage and Rumble Fish (both are about groups of single young men learning or not learning to grow up).

HBO’s Girls is too clever for it’s own good.  It’s typically cynical, disillusioned, narcissistic, self-focused, self-consciously ironic and what is now called “meta.” Frances Ha is joyful, thoughtful, at times objectively disinterested and interested in real ideas rather than in being relevant or millennially clever.

There is a seriousness that is lacking in the lighter fare of Girls, Portlandia or Entourage, but the inclusion of this missing seriousness would not necessarily prevent any of those shows from still being comic.  If anything, the earnestness of Frances Ha just proved this.  Instead, it is as if the makers of those shows just don’t care.  There are important cultural ideas obvious in their subject matter that are begging to be really explored, but they don’t seem to want to explore them.  By contrast, the makers of Frances Ha do.

Far too many moments in this film hit close to home.  I have friends who are the equivalents for many of the film’s characters.  And, even more unsettling, there is more than one character in Frances Ha who is dangerously similar to that person I have been or could still be.  I have seen, experienced or gone through too many of the sorts of things that happen in this film.  It is really terribly funny.  But I don’t know if I’ve seen a film that has produced as many laughs of, shall we say, self-recognition, as this one.

The film is critiquing my generation and that is one of the reasons why it is so good.  We need to be critiqued.  We are not honestly and compassionately critiqued like this enough.  This is also what makes so many of the film’s moments enjoyable in the sense of ‘uncomfortably funny.’

Greta Gerwig, who stars as Frances, has also recently given a splendid and comic performance in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress.  Comparing that film with this one allows us to consider what Frances Ha does at another angle.  Much of the social interaction that you would find in the films of Stillman is of that sort that one could happily desire.  In contrast, much of the social interaction in Frances Ha is of that less desired sort that one experiences instead.

How many things does Frances Ha get right?

Let’s count the ways:

- That wandering sense of rootlessness, years after college, when you see others of your friends who appear to have their acts together, when you still haven’t found satisfying answers for either love or for a career …

- That self-centered focus that revolves around my own search for the things I want to do with my own life that, intentionally or unintentionally, ignores anything greater or more important …

- That 21st century separation of sex from romance where sex is a matter of convenience between mere agreeable playmates …

- That dessication of the relatively new 20th Century idea of “dating” into the 21st Century version of just “hanging out” in which many young men will never actually say they are interested in specific young women …

- That trivializing of gender differences to the point of absolute casualness where men and women “hanging out” in each others’ bedrooms (or even lying in each other’s beds) means, well, it supposedly means nothing, nothing at all …

- Those instances of isolated conversation, becoming more and more frequent, where one individual can suddenly talk about himself or herself with absolutely no awareness of how all those listening are reacting or feeling …

- That constant and repeated separation from, and loss of, very dear friends …

- That dawning realization that one’s own rootlessness and lack of focus does not slow the passing of years, or even the passing of decades …

- Those ways in which life can be so easily lost over time without the conscious willing act to really do something worth doing …

Read more at Filmwell -

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