Sunday, December 15, 2013

"They're men with jobs, Jerry" - George Costanza

Finally saw "Frances Ha." Greta Gerwig - allow me to spoil the movie - plays an aspiring dancer who's reached the age (27) at which it's either going to happen or it's not. And it's not. In a city where (as is remarked upon in the movie) an artist is generally someone with an outside source of income, Gerwig's income really is what she can earn from her art. At the very beginning of the movie, she's offered an easy way out - moving in with a wealthier, maybe older boyfriend whom she's not all that in love with - but turns it down. She does the same (at first) when offered an office job. She's deeply committed, but to what? To art, to her best friend, or to the idea of staying a college student forever?

-I'm not sure I need to see another on-screen rendition of my recent-college-grad years living with roommates in Prospect Heights. It was on the cusp of, did they actually film that in my old apartment?

-So is it just Variations on "Girls," with Gerwig the Dunham character, and the friend who works in publishing the slimmer, more uptight Marnie? Google reveals a similarly nepotism-charge-inspiring cast (Sting's kid and Meryl Streep's!); this, too, is a New York without racial diversity. ("Ha" isn't an Asian last name, but what happens at the end of the movie, when Frances can't fit her full last name, Halliday, into her mailbox label. And the Chinatown she briefly lives in gives no hint of having non-white residents.) The big, whopping difference from "Girls" is that here, the protagonist is 27 and - as is remarked upon throughout - not such a recent grad after all. They're both, though about an adult who identifies - against all odds, and all sense of reality - as a child. Which is apparently very millennial, or something.

-Age. I'd mentioned before (before seeing the movie, that is, in reference to an interview with Gerwig) that "Frances Ha" apparently deals with the not-so-recent college grad, and indeed, it does. At one point fairly early on in the movie, a woman Frances meets announces that Frances looks much older than she is, but acts much younger. And it's clear that this insult has stung. There's a life stage where everyone kind of pretends to be bohemian, but what they really are is young. Money's stupid! Marriage and kids are for squares! And then a lingering, earnest few in each friend group will be taken off-guard and will feel betrayed when it turns out these were not everyone's hard-and-fast values, but just young people being young. But the older you get, the more awkward it is for you to cry 'sellout!' every time a friend gets engaged. Frances has a bit of the Holden Caulfield about her, sniffing out phonies, but then her refreshingly non-Botoxed face reminds us that this is a grown woman in her late 20s. When she finally takes the desk-job she's been offered, you're at once relieved and stunned that she hadn't done so immediately.

-Money. The movie's been praised (where? I forget) for being really honest about money in a way that feels fresh. The $3 ATM fee scene is apparently a thing. (I was so expert at avoiding those!) It's a great big exploration of the line between broke and poor. At one point, a friend tells Frances that in calling herself poor, she's being unfair to actual poor people. You sort of agree with him (ahem), but then you remember that he himself can always turn to his family, while she's on the cusp of something that goes beyond broke. It's not entirely clear - she has a family that can't support her life in New York (as vs. Ms. Horvath's family, which won't), but they seem to have a home she could move back to. Because of whichever forms of non-economic capital - connections she's made in the arts world, being white and pretty, whatever - she's never entirely out of work, or at least not for more than five minutes.

-Age, class, and money: What was most interesting was how the movie gets at that time in life when trajectories diverge. Because Frances is still hanging around with college friends, there's this sense of camaraderie mixed with the underlying fact that some people have family money or finance jobs (or both), while others, not so much. So it's not just that people with different situations are hanging out. It's that they're half under the illusion that they're all in the same boat.

-Online neurosis: The thing where the best friend moves to Tokyo with her banker-bro fiancé and starts a cringe-inducing couple-blog about it is just spot-on. And of course it turns out the friend was miserable at the time.

-I liked "Frances Ha." But I kept thinking of advice I got in grad school, that whenever you're writing something, you have to ask yourself, what are the stakes? Here, it seemed like if you look at the protagonist's trajectory, she goes from one artistic pursuit that isn't quite right for her (dancing) to another that is, and that has a longer shelf life (choreography). A great life-and-career crisis that lasts for all of five minutes, and that occurs at 27 rather than 22, but still within the decade when such things are socially acceptable. It's not that the problems depicted are too "first-world," exactly. More that it's never entirely clear what's stopping Frances from getting her act together, making it that much less surprising when, by the end of the movie, she has.


Rachel @Musings of An Inappropriate Woman said...

You've made me really want to see this film, Phoebe. Sounds rich and fascinating!

Phoebe said...

I'd be curious to know what you think if you do see it!