Sunday, 23 February 2014

Frances Ha

Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach – Greta Gerwig plays Frances, a twenty seven year old New York hipster amiably negotiating the privileged indulgence of a quarter life crisis. After moving out of a shared apartment with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Romney) - bespectacled, with owl-eyed chic - Frances wanders into a new, temporary living arrangement with two wealthy, sauntering evocations of bourgeois bohemia: one, a sculptor (played by Adam Driver, of Girls fame), slopes around with his own brand of off-beat, effortless self assurance; the other, a writer (played by Michael Zegen), is a self proclaimed ‘undateable’ neurotic puppy, who serves as a male parallel to Frances, with his own insecurities and a gently dithering suggestion of his (will they, wont they?) interest in her. Frances makes a visit back to her parents in Sacramento, takes an impulsive two day trip to Paris – which she accidently sleeps through most of, and returns to work at her old college, insisting to a current student that she is not that old. Threaded throughout the narrative runs the infatuation, affinity and intimate dependence of Frances’ coveted friendship with Sophie, her partner in grating kook. 


            Filmed in black and white, and with a consciously retro ‘cool’ soundtrack (David Bowie, T.Rex, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney) the film smugly marinades itself in French New Wave visuals, alongside a hearty slab of Woody Allen’s Manhattan (itself an American love letter to French New Wave)…while aslo slipping in a ‘dancing down the street’ homage to Leos Carax’s Mauvis Sang. This pallet of influences, none to lightly worn, is then nestled into the quivering indie bosom of Lena Dunham’s Girls, channelling the same transitional existentialism of intellectual twenty-somethings (bumming around in Brooklyn, smoking out of windows, bemoaning an inability to pay the rent, while simultaneously refusing job prospects beyond the choreography of avant-garde dance …etc). 


It is not that the broad themes explored are not interesting or resonant: the depiction of middle class and artistically inclined twenty year olds struggling to realise ambitions; understanding what might constitute a sustainable relationship; measuring the widening disjunction between youthful idealism and impending adulthood, ‘adulthood’ seeming increasingly synonymous with an end to idealism; defending the precarious dream of art against a beckoning conveyor belt of pragmatism; unpicking fantasies of lust and culturally spawned romanticism from actual experience; aching to preserve the ability to be spontaneous while suited harbingers of common sense keep reciting the virtues of stability and responsibility, hell - they don’t even wear suits anymore, some of them are your friends, friends you thought you knew, who - without warning – become harrowingly sensible and functioning members of society, mentioning the ‘property ladder’ and the prospect of family; these gripes, this confusion and the lack of direction are all very familiar and relatable topics for me… So why did I hate Frances Ha


            The inspection of all these topics is an inviting, if perhaps not particularly original, prospect for a film. The depiction of friendship as perhaps more powerful or enchanting then anything romance delivers – this too – is a really interesting idea.  The film is grounded in a portrayal of hipster sensibilities: the fashion; the music; the mumble-core lethargy; the effortlessly cool parties and pseudo intellect; the breezing through cavernous apartments funded by absent parents; the emptiness; the blank generation; the childish vulnerability behind posturing; the queasy fear of being what everyone seems inevitably destined for; treading art school water until the same bourgeois stability of their background comforts, its same jobs and marriages, welcomes them back into a predictable retreat. The problem being the film itself never seems sufficiently removed from its portrayal, its one thing to explore the hipster mentality, but to be watching a film crafted by that same mentality becomes an uneasy exercise in back slapping navel-gazing. The black and white, its soundtrack, the contrived unreality of its script – all contribute to the nauseous impression that we are watching the filmic equivalent to a self conscious playlist…assembled with just the right amount of anxiety, arrogance and literacy to attain hipster authenticity. It is a style that became increasingly grating. If I had felt more convinced by the dialogue – which felt, like everything else, postured and hollow – then maybe this style would have worked. I also feel it seemed far too palpably pleased with itself to be consciously engaged with recreating that empty and irritating atmosphere…it just was empty and irritating. Not an incisive exploration of hipster angst but a fondly hipster expression unable to fully explore itself, as it is resolutely a product of its own depictions. 4/10


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