Director Noah Baumbach (director of The Squid and the Whale  with Jesse Eisenberg, and screenwriter for Wes Anderson pictures The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou  and Fantastic Mr. Fox ), and co-screenwriter and actress Greta Gerwig (Arthur , No Strings Attached ), have given us a film to stir up conversation amongst North Americans in their 20s.
Frances Ha (2012) begins with 27-year-old Frances with her best friend/roommate Sophie, sharing a cheap apartment in New York. With the pair’s college days long in the past, Sophie now needs to break the living situation with Frances as a career and serious boyfriend have placed adult demands upon her.
Our protagonist is then left to search for new accommodations, roommates, and friends, and, as she loses her position as an apprentice at a dance company, a new career as well.
The film shows us the troubles college grads face when their chosen careers do not immediately follow their graduation.
Restless, uncertain about the future, and left without friends, money, or employment, Frances’ comedic and aimless wanderings through the streets, apartments, and houses of New York, Sacramento, and Paris, contribute to her growing sense of homelessness.
The one stable element that has kept her going the last few years, Sophie, pops in and out of the story to drive home the divide between them.
With Frances Ha, we have an indie romantic-comedy, as the familiar story of a separated but in love heterosexual couple is replaced here by two female protagonists that must reunite because, well, that is what couples do (in the movies).
Gerwig dazzles us in her role as Frances, her awkward and stilted delivery reminding us of Woody Allen’s acting and direction in Annie Hall (1977).
Baumbach mentioned in an interview that Allen is “an influence I wholly absorbed but at a certain point I had to shake. Now [with Frances Ha], I’m on the other side of that. There’s something so exciting about making movies in this city with him as the person I try to emulate.”
Besides the city of New York and Allen’s presence, perhaps the most wonderful moment in Frances Ha happens when we’re watching Gerwig dance on the sidewalks to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” a homage to Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang (1986), in which Denis Lavant, playing a passion-fuelled Alex, rushes down a street to the same tune.
My mention of Carax is one of many quotations and shots Baumbach appropriates from the French cinema in the years 1959-1986 (but particularly the early ‘60s). Frances Ha is shot in black-and-white, which is already a gesture towards the French New Wave of the early 1960s; prior to this, we need only to note the self-referential title to see Baumbach’s interest in the rich history of that nation’s cinema.
Writer Sophie Mayer, in her review of the film in Sight and Sound (August 2013), notes that Baumbach’s film might be the antipode to Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011), which stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, and is a feature we are pleased to screen at Market Hall on Wednesday, March 19.
Frances’ long and exuberant dance in the street, so full of joy, is contrasted with Brandon’s late-night jog across downtown New York.
His run occurs at the point in the plot where “sex, lies, new technology and uncomfortable roommates”—themes that both features share but dive into in very different ways—have completely sickened him.
These two films pair well in their narrative oppositions and cinematography, at least with respect to the superb tracking shots of dancing and jogging.
We hope you can join us for Baumbach’s Frances Ha on Wednesday, Jan., 29 at 8pm at Market Hall (140 Charlotte St.).
For Market Hall, see: http://markethall.org/our-events/calendar-of-events/.