Mosaic / Reviews / October 8, 2014

Flix: ‘Frances Ha’ reflects on friendship, quarterlife crisis

Flix is a weekly series that reviews a movie available on Netflix. This week, I review the 2013 film ‘Frances Ha.’

Sometime in the early 2000s, an informal collection of young filmmakers conceived a new style of filmmaking. This new style of filmmaking, which emphasized low-budget productions and natural dialogue, became a genre that film festival audiences called “mumblecore.” Although most moviegoers are probably unfamiliar with the obscure film genre, many of today’s prominent filmmakers had their humble beginnings in mumblecore, including Gretta Gerwig, Adam Driver and most notably, Lena Dunham. While mumblecore movies catered to a niche Sundance audience, they often exhibited the candidness and wittiness of old French films (the French New Wave films in particular). From this collection of understated movies comes Noah Baumbach’s 2013 comedy-drama “Frances Ha.” In stark black-and-white, the film follows the life of 27-year-old ballerina Frances (Greta Gerwig) as she struggles to support her romantic New York lifestyle both socially and financially. Through Gerwig’s portrayal of an urban twenty-something who struggles to make ends meet, the film explores themes like maturity and adulthood while breathing some much-needed realism into the played-out big city dreamer archetype.

Director Noah Baumbach gives “Frances Ha” a style and tone akin to an early Franois Truffaut masterpiece. Using meticulous blocking and shot compositions that reference obscure oldies, each frame of the movie has the singular beauty of a polaroid photograph. An adorably quirky soundtrack worthy of a Wes Anderson movie accompanies Frances as she meanders through New York City, sometimes chiming in with ironic song choices to exaggerate her inner strife.The film’s dialogue, with wittiness reminiscent of Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan,’ further establishes the quirky, nostalgic atmosphere of the film. All three of these elements culminate to make Baumbach’s love note to classical cinema. Although the film never reaches a level comparable to the classical cinema it emulates, the film is a solid effort in itself. Despite moments that may seem contrived or melodramatic, the characters’ melancholic undertones give the film a subtle poignancy akin to a theatrical production.

   With its depictions of frivolous New York lifestyles, the film meditates on the idea of self-realization. After rooming with well-to-do socialites Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen), both artists from wealthy backgrounds, Frances finds her stressful financial situation alienating. As her financial situation worsens, she struggles to surrender her glamorous dance career for a monotonous office job. By highlighting Frances’ insecurities and pridefulness, Gerwig adds realism and depth to an otherwise cliched character trope. Frances’ inner struggles, though sometimes trivial, elicit sympathy from the audience as the film progresses. Viewers come to understand Frances’ desperation to prove herself and fulfill her idealistic dreams. As we watch Frances face the uncertainties of her career, friendships and life in general, we take her struggles as bittersweet reminders that happiness and self-realization are not entitlements.

Through its simplicity and aesthetic distinctiveness, ‘Frances Ha’ examines the uncertainties of life and adulthood. Despite being an understated piece from the mumblecore genre, it meditates on serious themes like the never-ending process of self-discovery. ‘Frances Ha’ is a movie one must think about over a cup of coffee and a midnight stroll.

Stefan Torralba

Tags:  cerebral film Frances French Gerwig Gretta Ha indie movies mumblecore witty

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