FRANCES HA (2013, Noah Baumbach): 9/10
“Movies are so expensive these days.”
“Yeah, but you’re at the movies.”
That’s just one joyous exchange (in a film loaded with them) shining a light on art as a means to combat the effects of relative poverty for highly-educated/lowly-paid New Yorkers in FRANCES HA, one of Baumbach’s best films to date. Baumbach has always been looked on as a Woody Allen protege (he often feels to Allen like Abrams does to Spielberg), even going so far as to use prototypical Allen act-alike Jesse Eisenberg in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (before Eisenberg went on to be in an actual Woody film, TO ROME WITH LOVE). But here he has made what may be his MANHATTAN.
Baumbach even shoots it in black & white (unfortunately not nearly as beautifully as Gordon Willis did) and utilizes the city and its unique geography to help place its lead character in some sort of urban existential crisis. It’s slighter and breezier than MANHATTAN, not nearly as profound or incisive, but it’s almost assuredly funnier. I lost track of the number of laugh-out-loud lines, sight gags, and oddball-but-realistic moments of character that form this lazy yarnball of a movie.
Co-written by Baumbach’s girlfriend and the movie’s shining star, Greta Gerwig, the film plays more than anything else as a love letter to her: it allows her to perform at peak brilliance, realizing all the Keaton-esque skills (that’s Diane, not Buster) she introduced in films like GREENBERG, ARTHUR, and DAMSELS IN DISTRESS. Flawed, often irritating, socially awkward, but witty and lovable, the “undateable Frances” is definitely not unmemorable.
Dammit, this review sucks. Just look at that paragraph I just wrote up there. That is awful. Awful, awful writing. I mean what am I even talking about? “Undateable, but definitely not unmemorable!” Get it?!?! Jesus what a hack. And what does the first sentence have to do with the rest of the first paragraph? And “urban existential crisis?” Well okay I guess that IS sort of true. But still. Ugh.
Oh well just forget all of that shit, and go see FRANCES HA. There’s a scene halfway through where Frances tells a group of veritable strangers about this fantasy she has to experience true love by being able to look across a room during a party and make eye contact with the one person you know is your life, sharing a knowing look borne of familiarity and understanding. It works as a standalone scene, but then the payoff to that an hour later is a knockout.