A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, August 29, 2016

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)

Frances Ha succeeds at what I think it sets out to be: an affectionately amusing look at what an earlier generation called Yuppies -- except that Yuppies seemed to have a much easier time of integrating themselves into adulthood than the Gen Y or Millennial characters in this film. Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach, is charmingly awkward as Frances -- whose last name doesn't come from the frequently ironic interjection of "ha ha" in her conversations but from the truncation of her full surname, Halladay, that's revealed at the film's end. Frances is a would-be modern dancer trying to make it in New York even though her talent is, well, marginal. As a result, she's dependent on a collection of friends, including her fellow Vassar alum, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). But when Sophie and others in her life start finding their way in the world, clumsy, agreeable Frances starts to fall behind. If some of this reminds you of the HBO series Girls, and not because both the film and the series feature Adam Driver in a key role, it's not surprising. It's the same set: young middle-class white people in downward mobility when compared with their parents. We meet Frances's parents -- played by Greta Gerwig's own parents, Christine and Gordon Gerwig-- when she goes home to Sacramento for Christmas, a sequence probably designed to remind us why Frances prefers to struggle in New York than to settle for security in a less competitive milieu. Too much of this sort of generational comedy can wear out its welcome, but Frances Ha is so unpretentious -- except perhaps for Baumbach's decision to film it in black and white as an hommage to Woody Allen's Manhattan -- and Gerwig so skillful at creating Frances, that you can't help liking it.