Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Frances Ha....

I saw this wonderful film at a screening last night followed by a Q & A with its director Noah Baumbach, co-writer and star Greta Gerwig (above), and Mickey Sumner (daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler who plays Greta's BFF and her first love), below.

Frances (Gerwig) and Sophie (Sumner) went to Vassar together and now share an apartment in the city.  They're like an old married couple.  But a fun one.  They do everything together except have sex--because they're straight.  Frances is, as Gerwig explained, "hopelessly in love with her best friend."  As one might imagine, conflict (in terms of plot, anyway) arises when Frances turns down her boyfriend's plea to move in with him, only to have Sophie later move in with her guy, Patch.  This isn't exactly a spoiler, because it's at this point that the movie really begins.  

Baumbach described the film as "the road movie where nobody went anywhere."  He's speaking metaphorically.  The film is structured in chapters or segments marked by the various places Frances comes to reside or visit post Sophie.  I guess one could call this a coming-of-age story, but somehow coming to age (or Frances' making her ultimate move on her own terms) seems more to the point.

It's hard to not compare the movie to Lena Dunham's series Girls, as the film depicts twenty-somethings  (Frances is 27)  in New York City navigating relationships and contemporary mores and potential careers.  Not to mention that Girls' Adam Driver has a small role in it as one of Frances' roommates over the course of the movie.

Frances' other roommate, Benji (Michael Zegen), describes the two of them as the "undateables."  Indeed, the lovely and spirited Frances even manages a weekend in Paris without one French man approaching her.  She spends most of the time on her phone, as I once did when I took a trip to Cabo by myself.  So her trip resonated for me, even though I had the exact opposite experience alone in Paris in my twenties.  Frances exuded the douleur of divorce, after all.  Her attempts to connect were in vain, her timing completely off, despite the ecstatic hopefulness (I didn't see it as desperateness) of her impulsivity.

The film has the feel of improvisation, but that was not the case.  Gerwig asserted, "There was no playing."  Baumbach (below) countered, "There's a lot of room for playing; you just

have to do it with the lines as written."  He added, "It was a seriously controlled environment that was set up to make it as free as possible."  The average number of takes for each scene was 38!

Baumbach and Gerwig wrote the script together, each writing alternate "chapters" and then trading them.  

The film is in black and white.  Baumbach said he didn't want it distracted by color, that black and white feels more "immovable."  Then he shrugged and admitted, "I just wanted to make a movie in black and white."

And Frances is a seriously free spirit, caught in that awkward transition into what William Blake called Experience (from Innocence), but which we call adulthood.  She's not dependent upon her parents; she's full of life and even ambition with regard to her dancing; but that first big love has a way of, well, throwing us off course.  Look at Gatsby, the new version of whose story opens next weekend. 

In any case, when Frances is good and ready, she dons her pencil skirt and...well, go see for yourself.  As Frances puts it, "Sometimes it's good to do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it."  (That applies to everything she does in the film, including the impulsive flight to Paris.)

The film is worth just the scene in which Frances sprints to David Bowie's "Modern Love."  Trust me on this one.  Neither Baumbach nor Gerwig has ever been this good, at least in what I've seen so far.  They and their movie are eminently dateable!

Here's the trailer (by the way, that's Meryl Streep's daughter Grace Gummer with the long hair):

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