Trent Film Society Presents: Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2012)

Published in print and online January 27th, 2014, Trent University’s Arthur Newspaper

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Director Noah Baumbach (director of The Squid and the Whale [2005] with Jesse Eisenberg, and screenwriter for Wes Anderson pictures The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [2004] and Fantastic Mr. Fox [2009]), and co-screenwriter/actress Greta Gerwig (Arthur [2011], No Strings Attached [2011], Lola Versus [2012]), have given us a film to stir up conversation amongst North Americans in their 20s.

Frances Ha (2012) begins with 27-year-old Frances and her best friend/roommate Sophie, together 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 career and boyfriend have placed adult demands on her. Our protagonist is then left to search for new accommodations, new roommates and friends, and as she loses her position as an apprentice in a dance company, a new career as well.

The film shows us the troubles college grads face when their careers of choice do not immediately follow their graduation. Restless, uncertain about the future, without friends, money, and employment, Frances’s comedic and aimless wanderings through the streets, apartments, and houses of New York, Sacramento, and Paris, contribute to her growing sense of homelessness. Sophie, the one stable element that had kept Frances going the last few years, pops in and out of the story to drive home the divide between them.

We have with Frances Ha an indie-romantic-comedy, as the familiar story of a separated but in love heterosexual couple is here replaced by two female friends that must reunite because, well, that is what couples do (in the movies).

Gerwig dazzles us as Frances, her awkward and stilted delivery reminding us of Woody Allen’s acting and direction of his actors in Annie Hall (1977). Baumbach mentioned in an interview that Woody 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 of Frances Ha is watching Gerwig dance on the sidewalks to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” an homage to Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang (1986) in which Denis Lavant, as a passion-fueled Alex, rushed down a street to the same tune. This is one of many allusions to the French cinema of roughly 1959-1986 (but particularly the early 60s). Frances Ha is shot digitally then transferred to black-and-white, already a gesture toward the French New Wave.

Sophie Mayer, in her review of the film for Sight and Sound (August 2013), notes that Baumbach’s film might be the antipode to Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011), a feature we are pleased to screen at Market Hall on March 19th. Frances’s long and exuberant dance in the street, so full of joy, is contrasted with Brandon’s (Michael Fassbender) late night jog through downtown New York. His run occurs at the point in the plot where he’s become completely sickened by “sex, lies, new technology and uncomfortable roommates” (Mayer) – themes that both features share, but explore in different ways.

We hope you can join us for Baumbach’s Frances Ha on Wednesday, Jan., 29 at 8pm at Market Hall (140 Charlotte St.).

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