As explained in the first post of this new series, “From Netflix It Came” is an idea I had to get my thoughts on film down on (digital) paper on a semi-regular basis. I watch a large number of movies via Netflix, some of which make profound impacts and some of which I'll probably never think about again. This series will ocasionally look into the films that got a strong reaction out of me, positive or negative.
“Frances Ha,” 2013
Let's just get it out of the way: I think Greta Gerwig is gorgeous and I totally have a crush on her. Okay? Have we established that? Good.
Despite that, though, I've honestly never seen many of her movies. The so-called “mumblecore” genre has its place and I admire the honesty and improvisational nature of the performances, but it doesn't exactly make for classic films on a regular basis. And so, I've never really seen most of the material Gerwig is known for, such as “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” I went into this one with a pretty open mind after reading so much positive critical acclaim.
The Premise: In a setup similar to the show “Girls” but not quite as shameless, Gerwig's character Frances is a relatively young (27) woman doing her best to make a living in New York City. She's an idealist when it comes to her aspirations of being a modern dancer, where her enthusiasm seems to far outstrip her natural ability. She lives with her best friend Sophie, and the two lean heavily on one another in an “us against the world” mentality. Purely platonic, they still spend every waking moment together and sleep together in the same bed at night. But when Sophie moves out to a new apartment, Frances' life is thrown into disarray.
What follows is a surprisingly accurate portrait of youth at an age when adulthood has undeniably arrived but not perhaps sunk in, a series of moves and failed living arrangements with friends, lovers, coworkers and acquaintances. Some of it is depressing, some is bittersweet and almost all of it is painfully awkward. In other words, it rings more true than most modern depictions of 20-something life.
The execution: I'll go ahead and admit I'm not entirely sure what the underlying purpose was for the black & white color palette, other than to make things look pretty. Regardless, this is the only acknowledgement I'm making of it.
I appreciated the gentle humor of this film. The relationships between the main (and ancillary) characters seemed more realistic than most films focusing on this age group, which happens to be my own. From the very beginning, the audience can see how perfect Frances and Sophie are for one another as friends, but we're also able to see how this dependence has no doubt held Frances back from the sobering realities of being an adult. Every time she's faced with difficult life decisions, her instinct is to blow them off by reveling in her childlike friendship with Sophie. Stripped of that, things get far too real for her taste.
Through the use of montages, the movie presents a few spectacularly crystallized depictions of specific life events that felt VERY familiar to me. Specifically, there's one where Frances visits home that encapsulates every little bit of a trip home as a 27-year-old: Home cooking that is better than what you can make, an inundating wave of relatives, family parties and not-so-subtle attempts to redirect one's course in life. Frances' parents, to their credit, are the supportive type, so unusual for film parents in this kind of movie, but it's still clear they question the wisdom of her career choice. It's also clear that the persistent child in Frances is tempted by the longing to simply stay at home and never return to a career where she seems certain to fail.
My Netflix rating: On the Netflix “five star” system, I rated “Frances Ha” a solid four stars for its refreshing look at female friendships and interpersonal relationships among young people. I don't watch many dramas via Netflix, but if more of them were like this, maybe I would.
Final thoughts: “Frances Ha” is a film that doesn't have a very strong central plotline but nonetheless carries its characters to a satisfying conclusion. I appreciated the many small callbacks throughout the film, including the visual cue that is invoked in its closing moments. It's a sincere portrait of a likeable young woman who goes through some much-needed experiences and ultimately grows as a person.