Half price Criterion Collection sales at B&N happen only twice a year and that’s usually when I stock up on my wishlist titles (as CC releases tend to cost a pretty penny). As great and cult-like as Criterion is, I’m far from a completist. I find some of the films in their catalog a bit draining, tedious or boring, but I am a fan of the company as a whole. I’m in the small camp of film geeks who actually like supplemental material like commentary and director interviews. Criterion does supplemental material better than anyone else and their packaging, for the most part, has such a keen attention to detail that I usually feel it’s worth the premium price.
This time around, I couldn’t think of any titles I still wanted since I bought the few elusive movies on my wishlist last time they had their sale, so I did something I never do; I took a leap of faith and blind bought Frances Ha. I was afraid of buyer’s remorse b/c I only knew a few things about it (shot in NYC, stars Greta Gerwig, directed by Noah Baumbach, co-written by both, shot in black and white), but not much beyond the trailer set to “Modern Love”. Something about the trailer smelled of hipster douchiness.
I don’t know if there’s ever been a more derided group than those who actually choose to identify themselves as hipsters. My dislike of these dbags is not coming out of nowhere. Back in my mid to late 20’s, I made my living off of djing while I was a struggling freelance graphic designer. I was fortunate enough to live the sort of freewheeling, artistic lifestyle I’d always wanted and I surrounded myself with smart, creative, doers and thinkers; people who actually did interesting things. We’d have great and thoughtful conversations, our shared likes and dislikes brought us together, and for the most part, we behaved like normal people… we just happened to live our lives by our own set of rules.
Little by little, this subsect of annoying posers who often behaved like immature trolls with AS started to creep onto the scene. The vampires with their phony ennui (let’s not forget, these people never actually did anything creative, interesting or exciting) took every single aspect of cool and sucked all the passion and integrity out of it.
The superficial hipster was born and they were pretty easy to spot. They were the ones with the meticulously calculated wardrobes/accessories (those oversized nonprescription glasses aren’t trying hard at all), or the ones whose only mode of conversation was either a) deadpan or b) irony. They often chose to dance like small children, deliberately flailing about awkwardly as to express their contempt for rules and tradition, thumbing their nose at taste, laughing at convention. They were so meta. Hipster douchebags…
So back to Frances Ha. Would I find it to be somewhat endearing like Tiny Furniture or would it be grating like Girls? There were parts of Tiny Furniture I liked, but I still have yet to find anything likable or redeeming about Girls. Turns out, even the tall dorky looking guy from Girls is one of the actors in Frances Ha. Did I make a mistake in buying this movie?!!!
The film was not without its few douchey hipster moments (like most of the time Sophie opened her mouth) but as a whole, I can honestly say liked it. I first saw Greta Gerwig a few years back when “Baghead” came out and thought she had indie-darling star potential. I was excited to see her in Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress” (“Barcelona” and “Last Days of Disco” are two of my all-time favorite films) but felt her performance and the film in general fell kind of flat. I can’t comment on her performance in “Greenberg” as I never watched it, but she was perfect in her role as Frances. I can’t tell if she’s acting or if she really is that quirky and clumsy, but her slurred tones, ungraceful body language and facial ticks make her a natural fit as a… well, a hapless, lovable loser.
In some ways, she reminded me of a modern-day Annie Hall. The “Annie Hall”/”Manhattan” influence on this film is obvious (and I know every single other review has mentioned this… I googled just to be sure), but there were also plenty of shades of Jarmusch, Truffaut, and Godard all over this film (as many others have also pointed out).
There’s a scene where Sophie visits Frances at the apartment she’s sharing with Lev and Benji. She makes a comment that the apartment seems “very aware of itself”. I felt the same could be said about the movie; the Small Change poster, the fedora (is he channeling Belmondo or Lurie?), the Tootsie glasses (probably not even prescribed), the Serge Gainsbourg reference, the apartment full of vinyl records, the trip to Paris. I could have sworn there was a scene that even borrowed music from 400 Blows. The film felt a bit tailor-made to light up the hearts of proud Hipster Handbook-owning undergrads everywhere, fawning over this and Wes Anderson’s concise filmography; proudly ignorant of Woody’s masterpieces, yet to see and treasure the beauty of Jules et Jim, Breathless and Band of Outsiders.
Every time a smartphone, laptop or ironic street slang made its presence on the screen, I found it a bit surreal since the movie looks and feels like it could have been made in 1980. Was there even a plot to this film or was it just a collection of montages? It felt very disjointed and loose at times, but I think that was the point. Frances was herself a sloppy woman-child who “didn’t have her shit together” (as Benji pointed out), a woman in flux, not quite sure of where she will wind up next. It was also a bit ironic to see that what was once the decor of broke artists struggling to make it in NYC has become the adopted lifestyle of type of rich bohemians who can afford to live in a $4,000 a month apartment without having a job.
It was a bit meandering, a bit pointless, but in the end, it was a decent little film that I will enjoy many times down the line. It does have a certain charm and I am a sucker for the French New Wave, Strangers in Paradise, Manhattan and Annie Hall. I didn’t love the film, I had some problems with the cringe-inducing dialogue, but it was better than I expected. I definitely don’t regret my blind buy purchase. I do however wish there was a commentary track by Baumbach to go along with his Bogdanovich (the master!) interview.
Overall, B+ rating.