Friday, 17 July 2015

Review: Frances Ha

Frances Ha (2012) - Directed by Noah Baumbach

In my past two reviews, Into The Wild and Tracks, both of the films I reviewed focused on young people, setting out into the world and taking their desire to leave society to a logical extreme, with tragedy in the former case and future success in the latter. But explorer Robyn Davidson was a member of the Baby Boomer generation, and Chris McCandless was in Generation X. What about the young people of today - the so called "millenials", the "90s kids", the "lizard people"? With this film, starring and co-written by indie actress Greta Gerwing, I touch upon an entire genre of films about semi-rich, obnoxious white kids living in the city and not knowing what to do with their lives.
     Frances (Gerwig) is a 27-year-old trainee dancer who lives with her best friend Sophie. After breaking up with her boyfriend, Sophie ends up moving to a better apartment without her, and Frances spends the rest of the film couch-surfing and moving around social groups, dropping the few opportunities that her life does bless her with. After falling out with and reconciling with Sophie and other friends, she eventually achieves some form of hope for the future, with her own apartment, a potential boyfriend, and a job opportunity.
     Gerwig arrived in the mainstream from a film movement known contentiously as "Mumblecore", an informal collection of films mostly by the same people, following young people through their struggles in post-graduate life, expressing their feelings through naturalistic dialogue and the inanities of modern life. This films feels slightly more focused than some of those Mumblecore films, but the film focusses on the same issues. I've heard the idea of a "quarter-life crisis" often discussed, and this film is an 85-minute essay on that very concept. It's not like Frances doesn't have hopes and aspirations, and it's not like she's completely talentless - it's just that all of the parts of her life don't come together as naturally as we're taught that they will. She doesn't always have a network of friends, even in this age of constant communication and social networking, and she doesn't always have the financial ability to invest in and carry through the things she wants to do. Her life is built upon dreams more than it is resources and ability, something I know I'm guilty of in my life.
Sophie and Frances, in the film's monochrome style.
      But even though I identify with the film and the movement, and its terrifying implications for the future of my life, as I try and reconcile my love of film with my attempt at a Physics degree, I can't say it was all sunshine and roses. Not all films are meant to be entertaining first and foremost, but they have to at least capture one's interest.over the running time. Near its middle, in Frances' most bleak moments, the film risks dragging its audience into a deep apathy at the hopelessness and lack of drive that it possesses. This is not helped by the film's greyscale complexion (the artistic reason for which I can't really place), and the fact we spend good portions of the film with pretentious socialites.
    Frances Ha is not a mood film; it's not a film that you sit down when you want to feel anything in particular. It has its funny moments, its sad moments, but the result is something which manages to be both as naturalistic as it's trying to be and still a little twinged with the air of an artistic movement its lead can't really escape. A lot of the film can be unpleasant, both for parts of its listless dialogue and for the worryingly familiar subject matter, but all of its foibles and plot points come from life itself, and so I can't really fault it. What is life, after all, if not a slightly crappy and less structured form of storytelling, each of us the lead in our own picture? And if that idea is what this film represents, then it did so perfectly.


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