Monday, November 25, 2013

Netflix recommendation: FRANCES HA

I watch more films on Netflix than any other source. I have heard many say that there aren't any good films screening on Netflix, that the best films never show up there. I wouldn't know because I have had more than 200 movies on my Netflix Instant Watchlist for as long as I remember; I watch many a film from the list but then I add far more to the list. Its a game I am never going to win. An exceptional day for me would be one where I could watch films back to back from my Netflix list morn through night. 

So here is the first in hopefully a regular series of recommendations of movies streaming live on Netflix. For all those who bemoan that there isn't anything good to watch. 

I am thrilled to be kicking this off with Frances Ha because it is delight manifest on the cinema screen. 

The movie is written and directed by Noah Baumbach, he of the dark, aching 'comedies' Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding, and The Squid and The Whale. His latest effort carries an entirely different blueprint. For one thing the movie is shot in gorgeous black and white, which renders Brooklyn and Paris that much more romantic. When I saw the film at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, an audience member at the Q&A after the film asked Baumbach as to what besides The French New Wave and Woody Allen were his inspirations for this film. "Those two pretty much sum it up", he replied. 

The movie is co-written by the gamine Greta Gerwig who also plays the lead role. Maybe its because of her greater investment in this film (with her contribution to the script), but Gerwig is the most delightful she has been; and this means something considering that here is an actor who has made a name for herself by being delightful in films. It would be reductive to call this simply a coming of age film. As Gerwig mentioned during her response to a question after the screening at Toronto, this film interested her because it is based on something seldom seen in movies: unrequited love between two individuals who have a relationship that is not sexual. The film has a wide swath within the scope of its commentary, but is primarily about the lead character Frances (Gerwig) going into a tailspin after her best friend Sophie decides to pursue interests that do not include Frances. Who amongst us hasn't dealt with a best friend who inevitably started running a different race. This is the first film I have seen that has captured this with stark, recognizably painful honesty. 

The film is of course nothing if not a showcase for exceptional writing. The dialog here is pitch-perfect; laugh too loud at a line and you will miss the next piece of dialog. The spontaneous tone of the movie is not the mistaken for improvisation; we learned from the director and cast that this came from tedious repetition of takes based on a tightly scripted story.  The film also gets its last scene just right making it wistful but well-earned, scoring a perfect landing where most other films falter. 

This is an immeasurably witty and wise film.

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