Friday, November 15, 2013

#681: Frances Ha

(Noah Baumbach, 2013)

The rumblings below Criterion posts about Frances Ha on social media are reminiscent of the outright avalanche of anger unleashed with the Tiny Furniture release. In one way, this is not surprising, and even makes sense; like Tiny Furniture, Frances Ha is a contemporary film (nearly always controversial for inclusion in the Collection) about a self-absorbed New Yorker (certainly not a broad crowd pleaser of a genre).

But in a much more sinister way, the backlash is indicative of a serious strain of sexism that is very present in the film nerd community. I have little doubt that Frances Ha would receive none of the complaints that have been voiced if the film was about a male character. Likewise, the comparisons to Tiny Furniture would not seem as obvious, simply because there are tons of movies about neurotic men in New York - in fact, one of the greatest directors in our lifetimes built an entire career on them. This portion of the Criterion audience makes me very uncomfortable, especially because women filmmakers are so underrepresented in Criterion and in film in general.

I would defend Frances Ha from these attacks regardless of how I felt about the movie itself. But this is actually one of Baumbach's best movie, certainly my favorite since Squid and the Whale. Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the movie, gives the kind of performance we don't get to see anymore in Hollywood films. While I somewhat agree with the criticism that she has yet to stretch out beyond her lone persona as an actress, her work here is extremely impressive. She's in virtually every scene, and she carries the film on her back.

Although Tiny Furniture is a fair comparison, it's that other neurotic I mentioned that comes to mind first here. It's impossible to film New York in black and white and not have people immediately compare what you are trying to do to Manhattan, and the film shares many overlapping themes with that one. But ultimately Frances Ha is less of an exploration of self-absorbed lives against the backdrop of a tragicomic opera of a city and more about adulthood and letting go of what is safe to find your landing place. It doesn't always succeed, but Gerwig's performance and the brilliant dialog from her and Baumbach's sparkling script means it's constantly enjoyable and over before you want it to be.

Two notes here: great fucking cover that is perfectly evocative of what's great about the movie but also what is true to its themes and story. Really, it's perfect. Second: this movie has one of my new all-time favorite lines in "He's the kind of guy who would like buy a black leather couch and be like 'I love it.'"

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