Down From the Shelf ~ Frances Ha

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn’t really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles.

Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Grace Gummer, Michael Esper, Charlotte d’Amboise, Michael Zegen, Patrick Heusinger

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rated: R

Running Length: 86 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: I love a good indie film like every other nerdy movie fan but there’s a point when you have to draw a line in the sand and separate the good indies from the bad indies and not apologize for your feelings.

Frances Ha is one of those preciously darling films that critics fawned over and film aficionados loved to analyze over their fat free mocha lattes while combing their tiny moustaches…and I find myself wanting to call bullshit on all of them.  For Frances Ha is nothing new, nothing special, and nothing memorable when all is said and done.  It’s actually a very frustrating experience because it’s so mundane and ordinary that I started wondering if all the reviews telling me I had to see this weren’t part of some elaborate scheme to keep me occupied for 86 minutes while thieves bought Kit Kat bars in bulk with my stolen credit card.

Being fair to the film means pointing out that the reason I kept watching it was for the dynamic lead performance of co-writer Greta Gerwig who has become the Parker Posey of her generation after starring in several acclaimed indie features (we’ll just forget that she c0-starred in the Arthur remake, a certified bomb before retreating back to indie village).  It’s Gerwig that kept me from giving up on the film (and her character) and its why the movie winds up with a score higher than it probably deserves.

Reteaming with her Greenberg director Noah Baumbach, Gerwig collaborates with him on the script that sees the titular character bounce from one apartment to another as she struggles to make ends meet in her quest to become a reasonably famous modern dancer/choreographer.  She seems to be on some path…just not the right one or the one of her choosing so she’s constantly rebelling against it.  I find these movies (like the similarly themed Inside Llewyn Davis) wearisome at times because we can all see that the only thing standing in the way of these characters is their own ego and all they need to do is acquiesce to where they are headed and we can all get on with our lives.

But noooo…we need nearly 90 minutes of crisp black and white photography and a host of episodic encounters with the people Frances meets to finally arrive at that destination only to find that the resolution is better than we (or Frances) could have ever imagined.

This being a very low budget film, scenes were shot on the fly, which seems to support my theory that the mantra on the set was ‘absolutely no 2nd takes whatsoever’.  Most of the actors involved can work within that limitation…save for Mickey Sumner as Frances’ best friend.  I’m not sure what Sumner had on Gerwig/Baumbach to get them to cast her in such a pivotal role but she’s completely out of her league…which becomes painfully obvious with each tortuous scene she’s involved with.  Reading her lines like she’s reciting the back of a macaroni and cheese box, Sumner sucks the blessed life out of everything when she’s onscreen.

That leaves talented supporting players like Adam Driver, Michael Esper, Michael Zegen, and Broadway’s Charlotte d’Amboise to pick up the slack and they can only do so much.  The rest is up to Gerwig and I’d be lying if I didn’t say the actress is quite engaging and energizes much of the film with her zeal and zest for life…clueless as she is to how much she’s messing it all up.

At 86 minutes this isn’t something you’ll be checking your watch through, but it’s also nothing that demands your attention either when there are so many other independent features that have the script, performances, and insight to give you better bang for your buck.

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