I am not a fan of Noah Baumbach. His twee but dour films have turned me off year after year as I struggle to relate to them. Then along comes a leading girl that changes everything. Greta Gerwig is best summarised as Baumbach’s muse, she instils in his direction and characters a playfulness inherent in the everyday that is masterfully observed yet ubiquitous to proceedings. Frances Ha is the film that achieves this and so much more alluding to great historical film periods and captivating hearts of generation Y everywhere. Shot in black and white Frances Ha follows the titular character (Gerwig); a twenty something struggling to find her place and future in New York City. Yes it is a little bit Girls, a little bit Woody, but undoubtedly its own masterpiece and a wonderful take on the romance genre.
“Ahoy sexy!” Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig is Frances Ha, but she also wrote the script for the film. In this sense her character feels far more embedded in the story. She is in fact a template, an unsure but eager and dumbly optimistic member of the western generation Y. Not quite twee or hipster, she finds her own voice and gets along and through the world without too much drama. This is part of Frances Ha’s charm; a film that invests so much in a character yet does not drain the viewer. It helps then that the witty, funny, pointless, purposeful and contradictory banter throughout the film was written by its protagonist. This is her world view, it is a deeply personal thing to witness, and yet it is not hard to imagine yourself in similar circumstances or reflect on times in your life you are reminded about because of that particular scene or moment in the film. It is in fact a wonderful thing and the true beating heart behind the films premise and purpose, all thanks to Ms. Gerwig.
“Or just life. Love… Blah, I sound stoned.” Allusions of Greatness
There are so many wonderful moments in Frances Ha, that making a list would probably compromise 90% of the film. Most of these great scenes magically allude to films history; from the nouvelle vague movement, seventies American comedy and Woody Allen right through to similar American contemporaries and even television shows.
“Everyone’s a winner baby that’s no lie” The Rhythm of Life
The pacing in Frances Ha is exceptional, the film never stops and yet it never feels rushed either, which in itself is a feat considering the 86 minute runtime. During the film Frances experiences many life changes and with that comes snippets of life, perfectly edited to understand what has transitioned between the gaps, how characters feel and why. This is essential to the core romance in the film between Frances and her bestie Sophie, a relationship the film does not handle with kids gloves. The montage in the beginning sums up the long-standing and relatable history between them.
Later Frances meets Lev and Benji, two guys that anchor her life firmly in comfort but not ambition. Her brief scenes with them go to lengths to illustrate their characters, motivations, fears and hang-ups and yet none of this comes to the foreground. It is masterful direction and editing and this is bolstered by the perfect score; a French imbued line-up that underpins the joie de vivre of the film. Hilariously and ironically the track Every 1’s a Winner by Hot Chocolate is later used to its best and most memorable effect.
“I’m Having a Walden’s Pond moment” Simple Cinematography
Shooting the film in gorgeous black and white combined with the clarity of digital was a genius move. Essentially paying homage to films like Manhattan and cinematographer Gordon Willis, Baumbach has also centred the story on the characters, the dialogue and deflated the importance of the backdrop. Despite how stunning it is, the mise en scene is primarily about the placement of the people and their interactions.
“I’m not messy I’m busy” Milieu of the Gen Y
I already touched on this, but it is just so vital to why this film is an utter delight. It really speaks to the audience, it invites them to revel in life, look towards the future and progress and simply enjoy the fleeting moments. Frances Ha is an 86 minute celebration of living, it’s not over or under-played, it’s not obvious, it’s not pretentious, it just simply is, and it fills your heart and makes you smile, or dance or run merrily down the road like a lunatic. There is no telling how many more times I am going to watch and be truly merry; un-datable.
Kwenton Bellette - follow Kwenton on Twitter here: @Kwenton
Kwenton Bellette is extremely passionate about Asian film and the resurgence of new waves taking place in Korea, Japan and China in the last 10 years. He joined the global site Twitchfilm in 2009, is the artistic director of the Fantastic Asia Film Festival is Melbourne and currently studies a film masters degree at Melbourne University. He is very excited to raise further awareness of the what he thinks is the most exciting film industry in the world.