Frances Ha (2012)

Noah Baumbach | 81 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & Brazil / English | 15 / R

Frances Ha

Being a ditzy twentysomething in New York, hanging out with friends and going to parties, having a job as a dancer and earning just enough to get by, and nothing quite going to plan but it all kinda being ok anyway — all in black & white? I see why some people love this film. It’s a kind of obvious fantasy life for certain Artsy people. Of course, there’s not much drama in that (not that that would stop some filmmakers), and so Frances’s messy life begins to get messier. It may stop being a fantasy, but it’s certainly relatable to any of us who’ve failed at the things we’d dreamed of doing.

While some viewers find the characters’ lives relatable or something to aim for, I’m not surprised to learn that other viewers just find them really annoying. The primary characters are all twentysomething art snobs, which is a definite phase some twentysomethings go through. Some grow out of it, some don’t. I don’t think the film is idolising them, which is part of what allowed me to enjoy it. If it had presented them as wonderful people living an ideal lifestyle, I might’ve hated them. Not that the film condemns them, but I think it takes them for what they are rather than outright celebrating it. That much is clear by how Frances ends up washing out of that lifestyle — it’s not even that she chooses to reject it; it’s that it’s unsustainable.

Having watched the film with the perspective of being older than Frances, where her life ultimately goes after she’s forced to reevaluate and make changes… well, I guess personal experience of whether your dreams were fulfilled, had to be tweaked, or were totally squandered is likely to colour whether you think the film ends up somewhere realistic or, in fact, with almost-stereotypical movieland optimism. As if that wording doesn’t give it away, I do err towards the latter.

Girls just wanna live in New York City in black & white

To dig deeper into that, I find it hard to process my reaction to the ending, because it’s not that I want Frances to suffer — indeed, in many ways I found it a relief that she got her life on track and seemed happy. I can’t say I was super-invested in her as a character, but co-writer/director Noah Baumbach and co-writer/star Greta Gerwig got me invested enough that, when things were truly shitty, I did feel bad for her, and when she turned it around I was glad. But I also felt like she was lucky. She doesn’t get her dream, but she gets something comfortably adjacent to it. To people who want to make films and are making films (like, y’know, the people who made this film) that probably seems like a “compromised (therefore realistic) happy ending” (as opposed to an “everything turns out exactly as hoped (therefore unrealistic) happy ending”). But to those of us who’ve had to make even greater compromises — who’ve had to abandon dreams entirely and settle for what’s achievable — which, I’d wager, is the majority of human beings — Frances’s fate doesn’t seem hugely realistic.

I suspect the filmmakers believe they’ve created an ending in which Frances didn’t win, but nor did she lose; that she did ok. I’m sure I can’t be alone in seeing it as Frances still winning — not a 100% victory, but whatever she has (85% maybe?) is nothing to be sniffed at. So that’s why I’m conflicted: I’m glad Frances got her 85%; but if you want realism — and, as this is a black & white indie movie, not a glossy Hollywood dream factory, I kinda do — she should’ve got, like, 20%. By that I don’t mean end up living on the street or whatever, but maybe she had to move back to boring old Sacramento, move in with her parents for a bit, get a run-of-the-mill job in an office or whatever — something like that. Depressing, but truthful.

Anyway, it’s still a nice little fantasy for indie kids, so:

4 out of 5

The Jubilatious Monthly Review of May 2022

Of course, May had nothing to do with the jubilee (other than some precursor events), and the actual long weekend doesn’t start until tomorrow, so this post title is… not the best. But we’ll probably have forgotten it ever happened in 30 days’ time, so I’m not holding back the reference ’til June’s review.

Anyway, let’s put largely irrelevant naming issues aside and get on with last month’s viewing…

This month’s viewing towards my yearly challenge

#31 The Monolith Monsters (1957) — Decades #11
#32 Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) — WDYMYHS #4
#33 Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) — New Film #5
#34 On the Town (1949) — Rewatch #5
#35 To Be or Not to Be (1942) — Blindspot #5

  • I watched seven feature films I’d never seen before in May.
  • Four of them counted towards my 100 Films in a Year Challenge, along with one rewatch.
  • Those are less than ideal numbers — I should be at #41 by now, really. Next month marks the halfway point of the year, of course, but I’m really going to have to step things up to get to #50 by then.
  • One of the films I watched this month that didn’t count was Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s part of an ongoing series I’m watching — the MCU — so why doesn’t it count for Series Progression? Well, my personal rule when I count ‘series I’m in the middle of watching’ is that they’re series that have already finished, or where I’m catching up. Series where the next instalment isn’t even out yet can’t count because it doesn’t ‘exist’ yet. Sometimes, however, a new release can count, as with Encanto for Disney Classics last month, because I’m still watching older films as part of my catchup, so new releases get added to the end of the list. Does that make sense? Is it fair?
  • This month’s Blindspot film was Ernst Lubitsch’s anti-Nazi satire To Be or Not to Be.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film was Woody Allen’s comedy-drama Hannah and Her Sisters. Regular readers may remember I needed to watch two WDYMYHS films this month to catch up. Well, I didn’t, so that goal is now bumped to next month.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Monolith Monsters (from Eureka’s Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror set).

The 84th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Nothing truly exceptional this month, as is perhaps given away by the fact I’m going to choose an MCU film as my favourite. Obviously Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ticks the usual MCU boxes, but it mixes in a healthy dose of martial arts action-fantasy filmmaking — another (sub)genre I enjoy — making for an all-round entertaining MCU debut for the eponymous hero. It’s not the kind of film that’s going to convert nonbelievers, but it’s good fun.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is easily This Means War, the action-adventure/rom-com mashup starring Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as BFF CIA agents who both fall for Reese Witherspoon. It’s kinda adequate as a movie desperate to appeal to both male and female viewers, but kinda fails both by trying to be two different things at once and nailing neither.

Monster That Isn’t Really a Monster of the Month
I guess The Monolith Monsters was so titled to cash in on the popularity of monster movies in the ’50s, but the titular terror isn’t really a monster at all — it’s an extraterrestrial geological phenomena. On the bright side, at least that’s something a bit different.

Most Aspirational Lifestyle (for Some People) of the Month
In my review of tick, tick… BOOM! this month, I wrote that it would appeal to some people who dream of living that lifestyle. The same could absolutely be said of Frances Ha, which is about twentysomethings failing at life… but coolly, in black & white, in New York City. Well, if you only dream of failure, at least you’re less likely to be disappointed by reality, right?

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A series of posts I started this year has been growing in popularity month on month… Well, I say that: I’m not sure its actual numbers have been going up, so much as the rest of the viewing chart has been falling away around it. Anyway, for the first time, this month’s most-viewed new post is a ‘failures’ post; namely, April’s Failures (of course). I guess people are more interested to read about what I didn’t watch than what I did. Weird.

Every review posted this month, including new titles and the Archive 5

…marks the halfway point of the year — yes, already! — so I might indulge in a few bonus statistics.