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Wayback Wednesday: Frances Ha (2012)

It’s the way less fun sequel to “Lady Bird.”

Anyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen Citizen Kane (1941), largely considered to be the best movie of all time, seems to have the same criticism: that it’s well-made but wildly overrated. I have a feeling that anyone who’s seen the coming-of-age dramedy Frances Ha (2012) would end up saying the same thing. This is one of those movies that I’d read glowing reviews about, was always in my Netflix suggestions, and was recommended to me by friends. While there were parts of Frances Ha that were super interesting and had a lot of potential, ultimately, I couldn’t come to really enjoy a movie that feels like it’s actively trying to be annoying. Wait, was being annoying the point all along?

Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 8.59.31 PM
Credit: / IFC Films

Directed by Noah Baumbach and co-written by star Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha follows Frances Halladay, a 27-year-old dancer living in New York City. After her best friend and roommate Sophie moves out, Frances’ life begins to spiral downward financially and emotionally. Moving from apartment to apartment, Frances struggles to get herself together as she notices the lives of those around her only improving.

On paper, this seems like the type of movie that’s right up my alley. An artist living in New York facing a personal crisis who learns to pick herself up again? I love those kinds of stories! The movie is even in black and white which would probably put off most people, but I personally think it adds an extra layer of charm. And yet, as much as I wanted to like Frances Ha, it just wasn’t possible. The problem certainly isn’t the production. From the way Baumbach shoots the movie to every set and costume that do a perfect job of capturing the look and feel of struggling 20-somethings in New York, the movie is undoubtedly flawless. Baumbach succeeds in creating a gorgeous backdrop against which to tell the story. It’s the characters in that backdrop that are the source of my distaste for this movie.

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with Frances Ha story-wise. The main plot is a reliable premise that when handled correctly, you get an inspiring story that’s able to speak to a generation of viewers. There are many parts of Frances Ha that are totally relatable. Like Frances’ inability to find a decent job in her field, her worry about Sophie outgrowing her, and her constant moving around. Emotionally, you’re able to connect to what Frances is going through because chances are it mirrors exactly the types of ups and downs that everyone experiences in their 20s.

But oh my God, the movie tarnishes all of that with its truly insufferable use of dialogue. I was interested in watching this movie because I loved Baumbach’s writing in Marriage Story (2019) – check out my review here – as well as Gerwig’s in Lady Bird (2017), but you guys…clearly Frances Ha was the terrible first draft that both writers had to go through before delivering those far superior-written movies later on. I swear, almost every line that fell out of the main character’s mouths had me rolling my eyes.

The writing style in Frances Ha is very “two steps forward, two steps back.” Sometimes the characters speak as realistically as any group of friends living in the city, and the next they speak as though the writers had to Google, “phrases young people are definitely using and will make my characters sound hip and cool.” It’s like a group of baby boomers wrote a propaganda piece on how terribly annoying, entitled and irresponsible young people are. Granted, as a young person, I can confirm that we absolutely can be all of those things from time to time. I mean, who isn’t? But in trying to nail what young people sound like, Baumbach and Gerwig create characters who sound nothing like actual human beings. Think of the most pretentious and annoying things a stereotypical hipster would say and bam, you have like 85 per cent of this movie’s script. Really, there were times I felt like I was watching one of those Friedberg and Seltzer parody movies. Was the intent of the movie to get me to dislike and disassociate with the world the movie created and every character populated in it?

Even if getting the audience to root against the characters wasn’t the intent, the performances by the main cast are enough to put you off. The acting is certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen, but when everything Gerwig says is delivered in the same monotone, whiny drawl, I had no qualms about tuning her out and looking at my phone. Which is unfortunate because I kept watching in the hopes to see her take charge of her life and she never really did. Even with a half hour of movie left! Then the movie closes with a lazily put together montage of how she’s somewhat taken steps to improve herself? Very unsatisfying.

Frances Ha has all the right tools to be a great movie and is constantly on the verge of being exactly that but fumbles the opportunity every time. For me, a movie lives and dies with how well-written it is and unfortunately, the writing in Frances Ha just isn’t enjoyable or moving enough to warrant a second viewing. I’m sure this movie has found its own legion of fans but when it comes to coming-of-age comedy-dramas to watch, I’ve got plenty of other options more deserving of my time.

Have you seen Frances Ha? Did you enjoy it?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!



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