Best Friends For Frances

I've got some questions for you. Some are rhetorical, and some aren't. See if you can figure out which is which! What's the deal with all the black-and-white movies I'm catching lately? Does presenting it that way serve the actual story, or is it look-how-artistic-I-am showing off? Do you recognize the reference the title to this post is making? If not, are you upset that your childhood was so deprived of joy? How is it that one story full of detestable characters can wind up being the worst movie I saw this year, while another wound up being pretty satisfying?

These questions are in relation to Noah Baumbach's latest movie, Frances Ha. In all honesty, this is a film that I probably would have skipped, were it not for all the awards-season chatter. It's popping up on a lot of best-of lists of the year, and I like to be well-informed about the movies people are talking about. Also, it's streaming on Netflix, so I didn't even have to put on pants. Bonus! Frances Ha is about a struggling dancer in New York, whose life takes a tumble when her best friend and roommate decides to move out. Frances wants a certain type of life, and refuses to consider any outside information or advice that would suggest that she cannot. She bounces from place to place, living on the reluctant charity of the other urbane, artistic types in her social circle.

Did you pick up on the code in that last sentence? If you read "urbane, artistic types" as "insufferable New York hipsters", you get a gold star. This movie is populated by a ton of young, entitled white people with chunky glasses, enormous vinyl collections, and over-supportive parents. This one is sure his script will be picked up any day now. That one is addicted to fedoras. Unless this movie were about the heads of the big banks, it would be difficult to find a group to be less sympathetic about. I spent the first third of the movie wanting to punch everyone on screen.

But! Something happens along the way. The cracks in the facade of Frances' lifestyle begin to widen, and she begins to reassess what she wants in life, and how to go about getting it. Nothing changes overnight, of course, and there are plenty of stumbles along the way. Surprisingly, in a movie that had me wishing I could reach through the screen to shake her until her teeth rattled, I suddenly found myself getting very invested in Frances' efforts to hit the reset button. Is this film a triumph of cinema that should win a dozen Oscars? No. But making me care about the self-involved problems of a middle-class Manhattanite is no small feat, so in lieu of an Academy Award, I hope a big thumbs up from me is an acceptable substitute.

Frances Ha: B


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