Salisbury Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020

'Frances Ha' has its moments

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

"Frances Ha" is not your typical funny-ha-ha film.

That's not unusual because the films of "Frances Ha" director Noah Baumbach are noted for his skewed takes and skewering of this American life, including "Kicking and Screaming" (1995), "Mr Jealousy" (1997), "The Squid and the Whale" (2005), "Margo at The Wedding" (2007) and "Greenberg" (2010).

That's also not unusual for the films of "Frances Ha" star Greta Gerwig, noted for her skewed performances and skewering of these American relationships, including "To Rome with Love" (2012), "Greenberg" (2010), "Nights and Weekends" (2008), "Baghead" (2008) and "Hannah Takes the Stairs" (2007).

"Frances Ha" is probably the most widely-released indie film festival style film since Kevin Smith's "Clerks" (1994).

"Frances Ha," cowritten by Baumbach and Gerwig, centers on New York City hipster, Frances (Gerwig), a late 20something in search of a career, a relationship and herself.

In trendy apartments decorated with mid-century modern amoeba-shaped coffee tables, record players and shelves of vinyl record albums, Frances makes inappropriate comments to her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), boyfriends, friends and ex-boyfriends (Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen) and the dance company director, for whom she hopes to land a major role.

Baumbach filmed "Frances Ha" in black and white. Some scenes are crisp and compelling, as black and white cinematography should be. Many scenes are out of focus, randomly framed, poorly-lit and grainy. The aspect ratio (the way the film appears on the theater movie screen) gives the sense of the 16mm format.

This approach gives a sense of character intimacy. It also gives a sense for the movie-goer of wondering why Baumbach didn't do additional takes to get it right.

"Frances Ha" has the sense of a low-budget no, make that no-budget student film where paying for the rights to David Bowie's "Modern Love," heard during one scene and the closing credits, probably cost more than the film's entire production budget.

Gerwig's roots in mumblecore (indie films so low-budget as to not be able to utilize adequate sound recording and reproduction) is much in evidence in "Frances Ha" as in most of her film appearances. One wonders if this is intentional, an affectation, a variation on Diane Keaton's character in "Annie Hall" (1977), that of a petulant loser.

Gerwig's spasmodic body movements, flailing arms, chewing on her lip, mangy hair and thrift-shop clothing style aesthetic is in full effect.

On the one hand, Gerwig is one of the most annoying actors around. On the other hand, Gerwig is one of the most fascinating, intriguing and watchable actors around.

Gerwig's performance in "Frances Ha" is like a train wreck, or car accident. You can't look away. You must sneak a peek. You become a rubbernecker.

Much the same can be said of Baumbach's film directing. You often don't know where he's going with his scenes, storyline or the movie. Baumbach's camera in "Frances Ha" follows Gerwig around like a puppy dog.

The screenplay contains dialogue akin to what you'd overhear at a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble or from someone on a cellphone in a public place where self-important, narcissistic egomaniacs speak loud to impress.

Baumbach's filming style and Gerwig's acting style are a match made in heaven. In fact, Baumbach and Gerwig are a couple in real life.

"Frances Ha" has an "ah-ha" moment that occurs in the film's final frames. It's a satisfying payoff, redeeming much of what has gone before.

"Frances Ha": MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian) for sexual references and language; Genre: Comedy, Drama; Run time: 1 hour, 26 minutes; Distributed by IFC Films.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Frances Ha" was filmed sureptitously in Brooklyn and New York City.

Box Office, June 14: "Man of Steel" opened at No. 1, $113 million, for the Father's Day weekend; $125 million, since June 13, for the largest June opening ever. "This Is The End" opened way back but very respectably at No. 2, with $20.5 million for the weekend and $32.8 million overall.

3. "Now You See Me," $10.3 million, $80 million, three weeks; 4. "Fast & Furious 6," $9.4 million, $219.5 million, four weeks; 5. "The Purge," $8.2 million; $51.8 million, two weeks; 6. "The Internship," $7 million, $30.9 million, two weeks; 7. "Epic," $6 million, $95.4 million, four weeks; 8. "Star Trek: Into Darkness," $5.6 million; $210.4 million, five weeks; 9. "After Earth," $3.7 million, $54.2 million, three weeks; "Iron Man 3," $2.9 million, $399.6 million, seven weeks

Unreel: June 21:

"World War Z," PG-13: Marc Forster directs, based on the Max Brooks' book about a Zombie pandemic that threatens to destroy humanity. Brad Pitt stars in the sci-fi-horror film.

"Monsters University," G: We hang with Mike and Sulley in their college days. Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and Helen Mirren are among the voice talent in the animation family comedy.

"The Bling Ring," R: Sofia Coppola directs the crime drama based on a real-life group of teens who burglarize Hollywood celebrities' home to steal jewelry and other treasures. Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Taissa Farmiga and Emma Watson star.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@