For a film which has received so much love, Frances Ha is surprisingly difficult to like.
Noah Baumbauch’s seventh film follows the titular Frances as she strives and struggles to make something of herself. Never taking more than one step forward before taking (or tumbling) at least two back, Greta Gerwig’s Frances is self-recognised mess. The no filter honesty is a very much of a similar style to Lena Dunham’s Girls. This confessional type of cinema struggles to remain enjoyable after extended viewing. And what had started as refreshing unfamiliarity became wearying and more like an attention-seeking soliloquy.
After a second screening, I attempted to apportion blame more specifically. This made little difference. There weren’t, to borrow a sporting analogy, too many piano players and not enough piano movers – the main cast were all cogent, believable and compelling.
Neither were there too many moving parts. The story is simple and the dialogue crisp. New York has been enormously over-endowed with films set there and even though the scenery is over familiar, it remains perfectly pleasant. At which point, by a process of elimination, it becomes the fault of the director.
After colour photography became the orthodoxy, black and white photography has been principally used to connote a longing for an earlier time or to make a subject seem anachronistic. Speaking about Frances Has, director Noah Baumbach said that he shot the film in black and white so as to ‘boil it down to its barest bones’ and create an immediate “history” and “a kind of instant nostalgia.’
This choice feels unnecessary. And unattractive. In some of the night time scenes the stark contrasts enhanced the subject matter. In sunlight, too many scenes faded to into unattractive grey-scale and occasionally flirted with sepia. This wasn’t a film which needed even more artistic pretension.
Viewing this film felt like watching a Ferrari idle in stationary traffic for ninety minutes. There is clearly a lot of talent at work in France Ha. I look forward to seeing it elsewhere.
Frances Ha is available to own on DVD now