Frances Ha

Frances Ha ★★★★

This is the kind of movie that causes strongly polarized reactions based on each viewer's capacity to tolerate/recognize/empathize with those on-screen. Some people just can't handle watching 20-/30-something white people undergo minor crises within a basically privileged framework, which is understandable. (That said, I'm not sure why someone with that mindset would ever go watch ANY NOAH BAUMBACH MOVIE and ask afterwards — as some guy did — " if it had any sort of larger social context… besides only being about middle- to upper-class white people?” And then, when he got a deservedly flip response from Baumbach, he said "fuck you." How's that work? Sure, there's ongoing concern, only slowly being alleviated, about expanding the racial/gender/economic/etc. voices making films, but it's dumb to be angry with Baumbach for not being John Gianvito or Charles Burnett or whatever.) This is also the kind of movie that tends to get evaluated on the basis of whether it "gets it right" — i.e., whether it captures a zeitgeist congruent with the viewer's own experience or understanding of where we stand as a society. So e.g. someone can argue (in the normal "feeling and feeling and this and that and what" prose of the internet as it stands now) that the movie fails because it doesn't have an ending in which Frances has her spirit totally crushed by inheriting a shitty economy from Generation X'ers (like her director!) and learns that no one's ever getting a job in the arts again, instead winding up employed and not homeless in NYC, which I guess never happens ever; in this argumentative framework, Baumbach's failed because he didn't make an economic morality fable. Whatever (getting an apartment in Washington Heights and resigning yourself to office work is not exactly an overwhelming triumph in my opinion).

Baumbach makes movies that are suspiciously pleasurable for me to an extent that's almost unfair: they're full of faultless punchlines in scenes pared down to their essential exchanges, with the ruthlessly fragmentary editing disguising essentially conventional screenwriting arcs. Between Kicking And Screaming and this, Baumbach's now twice (a bit self-consciously but successfully) bottled a certain kind of Youth Moment (this is also his nicest movie since Kicking, though it's certainly got its share of squirm-inducing social interactions of astonishing obliviousness). Certain casual truths are acknowledged along the way — that pursuing "the arts" in New York City is largely only an option for the wealthy, that guys will refer to someone as a "slut" in another woman's presence and not even blink (and that the woman will just take it quietly), that there are wealthy kids in Manhattan with nicely decorated apartments and the luxury of not having to do shit to earn it — but, as usual, the movie's almost all text, with very little bubbling under the surface. That's fine in Baumbach's case, because his dialogue's so sharp and his sense of specific social interactions so keen. Endlessly quotable, but my pick of the litter: "You're judgmental of other people who aren't as moderate as you. And you don't read."

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