NYFF: Noah Baumbach says ‘Frances Ha’ is his post-Beatles moment
One of the sleeper hits of the fall-festival season has been Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha,” which in a climate of serious award-season dramas has stood out as a lighter but still thoughtful look at twentysomething life.
Shot in black-and-white, the movie offers up the well-meaning but ingenuous title character (Baumbach’s real-life paramour Greta Gerwig, who also wrote the script with him). Frances is a Brooklyn dancer who has complicated friendships and generally seeks happiness in a rather unforgiving world. As my colleague Mark Olsen wrote in a piece about the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival, “At first blush, it doesn’t sound like much of a departure for either [Baumbach or Gerwig], yet the alchemy of their collaboration seems to have brought out something new from both.”
On Thursday the film made the next stop on its barnstorming tour, playing for media at the New York Film Festival. At a post-screening news conference, Baumbach, who is trying to stage a comeback after the critical and commercial disappointments ”Greenberg” and ”Margot at the Wedding,” described “Frances” as “a little like the records Paul McCartney made after the Beatle s— he made them in his basement, and they were really big-sounding but also intimate.
“I kind of wanted to reinvent how I made movies a little bit,” he continued about the independent production, “where it’s “less about budget and more about philosophy.”
The process was unusual to say the least: Gerwig and Baumbach showed the other actors only the parts of the script that featured them, in the hope that it would allow them to focus more on their roles.
Baumbach described the movie as a reaction of sorts, at least geographically, to his Southland-set previous work. “With ‘Greenberg’ I wanted to make a movie about Los Angeles ... my great love for it and also the way that I felt not at home and alienated there,” he said. “And with ‘Frances’ … I wanted it to feel like I how I felt about New York.” (Baumbach lives in New York.)
Gerwig said at the presser that there was also a larger goal, at least implicitly, in making “Frances Ha.” “Women doing anything other than falling in love is underrepresented across the board,” she said. “Whenever I see female friendships represented accurately or even sort of accurately I’m very touched.” (She didn’t mention “Bridesmaids.”)
IFC acquired the movie this month and is likely to bring it out in the spring. Long a well-regarded indie actress, Gerwig has yet to prove she can open a movie — her similarly themed restless-in-Brooklyn dramedy “Lola Versus” was a disappointment earlier this year. But the distributor hopes that strong reviews and word-of-moth can recreate the mojo of “Moonrise Kingdom” and other spring counterprogram-y hits.
At any rate, don’t expect Gerwig to change up the awkward authenticity she brings to many of her roles.
Asked about her acting style, she cited Johnny Cash, who said, ”’I play guitar like this because I don’t know any other way.’ And I don’t know any other way to act.”
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