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This Is Northern New South Wales

FRANCES HA: VICARIOUS QUIRKS

We all have our little foibles – those funny little traits that make us us. Some we hide away for only ourselves to know of, others we thrive on, nurturing and becoming them. And then there are those that just sneak out, no matter how hard we try to smother them, and humiliate us at the most inopportune of moments.

There is something about Jewish filmmakers that encourages them to immortalise those nauseatingly awkward moments we have all had, or can at least empathise with. Woody Allen, the Coen Brothers and ersatz semite Wes Anderson have all made us cringe in our seats at the familiarity of their characters’ discomforts.

Frances Ha director, Noah Baumbach, has embraced neuroses and eccentricities before, his 2005 film, The Squid & The Whale, pouring more than a couple of excruciating observations onto the big screen for all to bare witness and relate to.

Greta Gerwig, who plays the Frances in question, fills the role perfectly. Bland yet attractive, averagely yet uncomfortably framed, and giving the distinct impression that her five-year-old former ego has suddenly found herself in a post-pubescent, grown-up body, Gerwig stumbles, trips and blunders her way through 18 months of a life that we have all, at least metaphorically, found ourselves in.

Frances Ha | Noah Baumbach

Chronologically, Frances Ha takes place in that post-university, pre-career period of life in which bit-jobs and parties fill our hours while we wait expectantly for that big break that we are yet to realise only we ourselves can manifest. Frances embodies the discomfit in which we have all been immersed, unmotivated for the daily grind, infinitely motivated for…something, and absolutely no clue whatsoever what that something might be.

Frances is a latter-twentysomething New Yorkian, failing superbly at a dancing career, her complete lack of coordination undermining her excellent choreography. Struggling to make rent, adorably undateable and with about as much solid direction as a broken compass, she bounces from one ephemeral idea to the next, always searching for a tangible grasp on stability. Constantly disappointed by her best friend’s evolution into a relationship she deems artificial, she is forced to face her own reality and stand on her own, two left feet.

For a dancer, Frances has the most unusual footwork – right and left refuse to converse, walking their own paths, which veer in alarmingly disparate directions, before invariably ending up in her mouth. She is the person that envelopes every party in a blanket of uncomfortable silence, the one who utters a racist slur, entirely in jest, just as the Jamaican Ju-Jitsu Society of Bangladesh enters the room, the unfortunate soul who asks the girl with the thyroid problem how many weeks she has left until she’s a mamma.

Frances Ha is ‘real’ on so many levels. Shot entirely in black and white, despite this glaringly obvious distinction from reality, the film speaks to its audience in tones of memory and familiarity. Yes, we might not all be 27-year-old, single, blonde, Jewish dancers living in New York with a swathe of über-hipsters, but somehow we can smell the stale beer soaking into the upholstery, feel the the rasping smoke of one Marlboro too many.

Frances Ha is cute. It doesn’t try too hard to be something its not or have delusions of grandeur. It’s a simple story of simple characters living a simple life. Sure, the lead character jets off to Paris for a weekend despite being devastatingly broke and the ending ties up a little too neatly in a slightly far-fetched “six months later” scenario, but the audience is never disregarded in their intrinsic part in the tale.

The characters snort when they laugh, their glasses are sometimes askew and one knee sock slumps towards the ‘sensible’ shoe at its base faster than its other-legged counterpart. You know that, even though they may not be visible, each figure is just offscreen, still standing, still breathing and still hanging on every word of their more verbose peer.

In many ways it’s not much of a film, not striving for Oscars or Palm D’Ors, but it definitely has my recommendation, even if only to gain the thanks of your heart-cockles for a little bit of extra warmth.

RATING:
3.5

Review by: Tommy Leitch – www.subcutanea.net | courtesy of Palace Cinemas. Byron Bay