Berkshire International Film Festival 2013: Frances Ha (2013)
Noah Baumbach seems to have tirelessly studied the “coming of age” genre, garnering both commercial attention and critical acclaim with his breakout feature The Squid and the Whale and his latest “dealing with age” film Greenberg. As an independent filmmaker, he keeps his creative circle fairly tight, recasting a select few actors and actresses and frequently writing with Wes Anderson on projects like The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Within this trusted group of both cast and crew, many of these projects end up dealing with similar issues and generating a similar look or feel- one that is often very nostalgic, a homage to a certain time period or another classic director’s palette. His latest feature, Frances Ha makes no exception.
Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the script with Baumbach, stars as Frances- a modern twentysomething American heroin struggling with her postgraduate life in New York City. Between complicated ballet career aspirations, breaking up with her boyfriend, and a fallout with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), Frances is forced to confront adulthood and leave behind her carefree lifestyle. The film is very much, quite literally, a love letter to New York City, shot in soft romantic black and white. Baumbach and Gerwig, as discussed in their postscreening Q+A during the closing night of the Berkshire International Film Festival, are not afraid to wear their cinematic influences on their sleeves. Stylistically, the film is reminiscent of the French New Wave and borrows themes and conversational humor from the likes of Woody Allen’s filmography, especially Manhattan. In fact, the film is a much younger version of that film- painting the audience a portrait of a character who has yet to fall in love, or giving them a glimpse of young people pretentiously romanticizing about cities and culture they have yet to experience. Gerwig and the supporting cast are absolutely fantastic, breathing life into the playful dialogue and conversation of these young New Yorkers.
Frances Ha is a triumph. It is the film that, thematically, Baumbach has always strove to make, and, stylistically, he has always hoped to make. The cinematography is gorgeous- both grand and intimate. And while this may seem like a homage to the films, music, and culture of the 50s and 60s, Baumbach never let’s the audience forget that this is a modern tale, leading to possibly the only problem with the film itself. While the film strives to look and feel both foreign and vintage, iPhones and blogs are constantly used and accessed while American brands and labels like Budweiser and Jack Daniels are prominently displayed. It begins to bare a striking similarity to Lena Dunham’s hit HBO series Girls, and even stars Dunham’s love interest Adam (Adam Driver) as one of Frances’ roommates. While this is clearly a culmination of themes and influences for both Baumbach and Gerwig, the “coming of age” dramedy of the twentysomething New Yorker already feels a bit tired. Despite the small criticism, Frances Ha is a fantastic artistic collaboration that demands to be screened in a theater to fully enjoy the romance of both its characters and appearance.
Frances Ha is now playing in limited release.
For more information on the Berkshire International Film Festival, visit http://www.biffma.com/.