Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ha Ha

You'd have to wait all the way to the end of the 90 minutes to find out how this movie gets its title.  Some folks may not make it.

I did and, despite lots of misgivings along the way, I liked "Frances Ha."

Or did I?

It's an uncomfortable slice of New York life, bathed in black and white photography that always manages to show off that city better than any other.  As I sat through this efficiently edited and timed movie, I alternated between feelings of joy, sadness, and sheer anger.  It took me almost the entire hour-and-a-half to figure out where all those emotions were coming.  It will take almost three-quarters of this blog review for you to figure out what the hell I mean.

Director Noah Baumbach and "Frances Ha" star Greta Gerwig are allegedly dating and it shows.  How else could you come up with this raw and guttural tale of a young woman floundering in Manhattan life?  This is organic and real, and, for the most part, unlikeable.  

Frances is a 27-year-old dancer desperately trying to fit into a world which will never really have room for her.  And with good reason.  She's freakin' weird.  At the outset, she's living in some downtown dump with her college best friend, Sophie.  They are incredibly close.  Actually way too close.  Yet, their relationship is, at the same time, superficial.  Their main contact is when they suddenly break out into a pretend fist fight while out trolling Manhattan streets.  It's a mystery that other New Yorkers haven't already called the cops on these two.

Well, Sophie gets a boyfriend and that leaves the wounded Frances, already having trouble holding a job with a dance company, into a series of even weird living situations.  She moves in with two guys who are almost her equal as misfits.  One has a different girl for an overnight guest every day.  The other is a writer who spends his day trying to craft spec sketches for SNL and finish his unsolicited screenplay for "Gremlins 3."  Frances and the writer bond a little but that sours when he calls her "undateable." 

Yeah, that set-up doesn't work out either.

Meanwhile, the lost Frances wanders around and frequently dances all over the streets of town to David Bowie's "Modern Love."  Again, if I'm seeing this kook out and about, I am flagging a patrol car immediately.  But, yet, Frances continues on her un-merry way.  Looking for some sort of connection, she maxes out a credit card she got in the mail to fly over to Paris and re-connect unannounced with a college friend there.  Of course, the girl's not home and doesn't return Frances' call until the latter is already back at JFK Airport.

Still looking, Frances reasons that she was happiest in college so she goes back there to be a resident advisor and a wine pourer at faculty events.  At this point, you realize that Frances is 27 going on 17 and her own worst enemy.

And then it hit me.  I know her.  I actually know several people like her.  The person who's too nice to shoo away, but it's impossible to allow yourself to get close with them.  We all have them.

The frienemy. Those folks in our lives who never can seem to get out of their own way.  The people whose actions or comments are always cringe-worthy, yet we keep them around.

Why?   Ah, sweet mystery of life.

Frances is every one of those people.  Someone you don't want to get close to, but can't really kick out of your life.

I suddenly got what Baumbach and Gerwig are going for.  And then the movie began to work for me like a Swiss watch.  It was totally alright to be annoyed and even repulsed by Frances.  Because somebody like her is as common to all of us as air and water.

Yes, "Frances Ha" is hard to watch.  But, when you dig down in your own soul, you can amazingly comprehend Frances.  You want to kill her.  You want to slap her silly.  But, still, when she calls for a dinner date, you find the time to do so.

And that's the true essence of a successful movie.  One that conjures up images and thoughts that stay with you for a while.  

Yep, I can't stop thinking about "Frances Ha."


Dinner last night:  Burgers, kabobs, Thai noodles, and other good stuff at the home of good friends Roby and Bruce.


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