Review: Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha

“I think we connected over this character in a way we didn’t necessarily communicate”, said director Noah Baumbach, referring to the title character of his most recent film, Frances Ha. Most of the questions during the Q&A portion of the film’s showing at the New York Film Festival had to do with Frances’ character. Acclaimed writer of Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach collaborated with Greta Gerwig (who is also the film’s star) on the script of this black and white beauty.  Here, Baumbach is revisiting that ever-popular subject of “lost 20-something” which seems to be popping up everywhere today (*ahem* HBO Girls *ahem*).

By the end of the film, you’ve forgotten that it’s in black and white. There’s much more to pay attention to than the lack of color: The very deliberate sound track, for example, adds to the playful nature of the film. We listen to composer Georges Delerue while Frances sulks around Paris, and David Bowie while she runs through Chinatown.  Baumbach explained that he made sure to choose “grand” music, “something that would support black and white”. Location is also a big factor, with many scenes framed by having the street address typed out on the screen. Baumbach decided to shoot in places he “has a feeling for” around New York, and at his alma mater of Vassar College.

A few things that jumped out at me upon my first viewing of the film:

  1. Frances’ relationship with her best friend Sophie. This is a realistic look at what happens when best friends’ lives go in different directions: the awkward phone calls, drunken conversations, all of the things we want to just ignore. This sub-plot supports the film all the way through.
  2. The dialogue. All I can say is that some points in the movie sound like Baumbach was sitting in my bedroom spying on my conversations. He dedicates actual screen time to an entire conversation about feeling lazy and wasting the day watching tv and online shopping.
  3. Frances’ strange, almost oxymoronic self-confidence. The entire film is supposed to be about Frances attempting to find stability, but the real conflict lies in the fact that Frances won’t settle for doing things the way they “should” be done. At one point, Frances could easily take an office job to support herself, but that would, in a way, mean ending her goose-chase for whatever type of meaning she’s looking for. She pretty much doesn’t really care what everyone else thinks- but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take her lots of time and frustration to realize it. Frances acknowledges the fact that she’s immature for her age, but she doesn’t apologize for it, she embraces it.
  4. Frances does not once have sex with anyone, and the ending of the film has nothing to do with finding solace in a relationship. And that, my friends, is just refreshing.

Let’s talk about #4 in more detail: There are definitely parts of the film that flirt with the idea of sex and romance. Other people in the story are having sex. Baumbach doesn’t ignore the integral part of the “20-something female” trope that there be some sort of romance, and the story ends with a kiss. He merely suggests its existence, sets up the characters with a perfect situation for it to happen, and blatantly ignores it. Which is more true to life than any happy ending I’ve seen. I love it. That kiss, or in this case that non-kiss, represents a conclusion, it represents the heroine finding what she has been looking for in another person and being satisfied.

That easy answer that is found in a relationship doesn’t see the light of day in this movie, forcing Frances to find a way to be happy with herself on her own terms. What a concept! How many 20-something protagonists out there work through a grocery list of problems, only to ultimately realize that she needs to learn to be happy with herself first. Baumbach succeeds at communicating in one movie what other people spend seasons doing.

-Joanna Harkins, Editor-in-Chief

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About Joanna Harkins

co-founder and editor-at-large of inconnu

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