Saturday, September 8, 2012

TIFF 2012: Frances Ha

Les girls, Brooklyn style ...
Frances Ha (U.S., 2012) directed by Noah Baumbach, 2hrs, 
Saturday September 8th, 2012, 12p., Winter Garden Theatre

Co-written by actress Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach - director of The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot at the Wedding (2007), Greenberg (2010) - this film goes to interesting places - part Woody Allen comedy, part New Wave homage as was duly noted at the screening. 

I liked the energy of the film and its very conscious effort to emulate the French New Wave in the cutting of the scenes – filmed in a richly toned b&w and set in Brooklyn it has rapid, quick cuts featuring scenes that don’t always follow chronologically. They have energy and spirit as if mimicking the intensity of the youth and the activity it depicts. It reminded me of Godard’s Breathless (1959), a film that I just recently re-watched with a new sometimes surprised perspective (gist for another blog I'm afraid).

TIFF's Cameron Bailey described this film as being about two female friends Frances and Sophie (Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner) who are part of an “over-educated, underemployed generation more intimate with their friends than their lovers”. That has a sort of resonance for me.

Frances is a struggling dancer in Brooklyn who teaches a little, dances a little and tries to make due in Brooklyn, trying to make her relationship work, trying to pay rent, trying to be a professional dancer. She’s not particularly good at any of those things it seems. But she is good at being Sophie’s friend and roommate with whom she has an oddly intense relationship so when Sophie (Mickey Sumner) wants to move out and move on with her soon to be fiancé Patch, Frances flounders like a left behind lover suffering from unrequited love.

I can’t say that I quite buy into Frances’ obsession - Sophie is a sour-faced, acid tongued and pictured here (but certainly not in person as we could see after the screening) not particularly attractive sidekick to the more ebullient and pretty Frances but Frances can’t seem to let go. Questions posed to Gerwig after the screening shed a bit more light on this … it seems it was more Frances’ youth that she can’t seem to let go of – the college years, the years of having a roommate to share one’s money woes and complain about boyfriends, the nights of staying up late, drinking too much, waiting for the future to happen.

And this leads me to my perennial distress (and critique) about young adults in the 21st c. - this horror of growing up and doing adult things, this unfounded thinking that suggests that being a serious person will make you old or boring or a sell out.

I think the screenwriters are with me on this because even at the presumed nadir of her young life once Frances accepts Sophie’s relationship and her desire to move on, she begins to behave like more of an adult herself. She accepts a low paying job but much needed job with the dance troupe after she is dismissed from the company; she focuses on choreography young students which is her strength; she finds her own apartment instead of cadging off more prosperous friends. She is happier, more satisfied, because she is making her way in the world on her own terms.   

The writing does have a bit of that talky, too cerebral patter going on that sometimes grates (as does the quirkiness of the girls at times). Who talks like that - all witty asides and artsy, intellectual references? Or maybe I just don't run in the right circles? But hot, smart and self-aware (Baumbach) is very appealing ...

Baumbach, Gerwig and Sumner were present after the screening and the best line was the director’s after someone commented that they were dissatisfied with the happy ending – they were anticipating something else. That sent a titter through the audience for anyone who has seen The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding or Greenberg. To this he wryly commented, “Well, then I recommend anyone of my other films.” And thus ended the Q&A. 
(L-R) Baumbach, Sumner and Gerwig from 
our vantage point (courtesy of Katie Franklin)

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