Review: Frances Ha (Baumbach, 2013)

Still from the movie Frances Ha

I liked Frances Ha. From a plot/relationship perspective, it’s a pretty typical light-hearted American indie film. What makes this movie special is that sort of offbeat, zany, funny-in-an-awkward-way energy. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what “twee” means, but I think this film might fall under that descriptor because I like it in the way I like other things that have been called twee, such as Girls, Juno, and Wes Anderson movies. Or is it just hipster? Whatever. Still, it’s twee/hipster in its own Noam Baumbach fashion.

Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner star in this film about two girls living in New York City and their strange, meandering, complicated, soulmate-ish friendship. Maybe it’s not surprising I liked it because I’ve pretty much liked everything director/writer Baumbach has had a hand in writing, including The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Squid and the Whale, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

What almost ruined it for me, though, was Gerwig’s acting. I can’t decide whether or not she’s moderately bad at her job or just deliberately awkward. I’ve only seen her in two-and-a-half films so far: She was normal in Arthur, opposite Russell Brand; she was quite awkward in Damsels in Distress (the part I saw before the plane landed and cut off my viewing), but then everyone was awkward because that was the style. Then the way she behaved in Frances Ha–the little mannerisms, the talking too fast in a hyper monotone (a la Alexis Bledel in Gilmore Girls, and I don’t mean that as a compliment)–that all reminded me a little of how she behaved in Damsels in Distress, except it didn’t fit here. I mean, Mickey Sumner wasn’t awkward. Adam Driver was (shockingly) not awkward. There were one or two scenes that she couldn’t quite carry, that felt out-of-place and corny, as if they’d been thrown in at the last minute, a cheap attempt to make a meaningful ending. Though maybe that wasn’t so much Gerwig’s fault as it was the screenplay’s. (Or maybe it was still her fault since she co-write the screenplay?) At any rate, it wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t swallow my discomfort with Gerwig’s performance and those odd little scenes and still appreciate the film.

As an aside, the black-and-white cinematography didn’t bother me as much in this movie as it did in Nebraska. I wonder why. Maybe it fit the tone better?

Note: Mickey Sumner looks completely different with blonde hair (see IMDB photo). I haven’t seen her in anything else, so I was more than a little surprised that she could go from mousy and odd-looking to sophisticated and beautiful (albeit in the way Cate Blanchett is beautiful) with just one dye job.

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