Tag Archives: dramaedy

Review – Frances Ha

“Tell me the story of us.” So says Frances (Greta Gerwig) to Sophie (Mickey Sumner) near the beginning of Noah Baumbach’s Allen-channeling ode to the so-called ‘millennial generation’. The story of Frances and Sophie, in Sophie’s words at least, is an idealised view of their future, where Frances is a successful dancer and Sophie a publisher. The problem is, for a large amount of the film, although Frances is a dancer in a company, she does very little, almost taking pride in her apathy. This seems to bring with it some kind of self-righteous self-loathing that comes with her lifestyle, particularly when she says to two of her friends that she’s poor, almost needing to convince them that she is so she can feel bad about herself. I’m aware that something like that is par for the course in a film like Frances Ha, which channels Lena Dunham’s Girls more than it does Woody Allen (in spite of a gorgeous black and white cinematography courtesy of Sam Levy, who’s shots of New York and Paris bring to mind, at the best moments, the iconic Manhattan), but for these two things (i.e. “the story of us” and the apathetic reality of Frances’ situation) to be at odds all the time makes it difficult to be engaged or sympathetic towards Frances, as if, for some inexplicable reason, barricades are built around her to avoid any connection from being made.

My minor qualms with the character aside, Gerwig’s performance as Frances has some truly wonderful moments. A lot of the time it feels a little simple in terms of acting, perhaps somwhere between Alvy Singer and Hannah Horvath, but there are truly excellent pieces of acting that shine through the film. All of these moments come whenever Frances doesn’t indulge in how ‘difficult’ her life is, and instead we see her facing, rather than her lifestyle or career choices, the personal issues that have arisen around her (although how Frances is supposed to be “un-dateable” will forever mystify me), from her realising things that have gone wrong as she talks at a dinner party, or, in one of the best and most human moments of the film, consoling a drunk and confused Sophie. And while Gerwig delivers a strong (and at times excellent) performance, for me it’s Sumner’s performance as Sophie that runs away with the film. She perhaps gets better material, but seeing her drunk and angry towards her boyfriend near the end of the film is one of the most powerful moments in it.

That’s what’s a little strange about Frances Ha. Although it is largely a comedy. and there are plenty of good jokes, all of that seems to be overshadowed by the flashes of drama that sneak out through the witticisms and the apathy. The script (penned by Baumbach and Gerwig) is the film’s strongest element, since it does a great deal with seemingly simple dialogue, and its only really hampered by a few montages of Frances and Sophie’s escapades that makes the pacing seem jarring at times, slowing it down so that it feels longer than its short running time. Frances Ha also boasts an ensemble that, while a little underused, is destined to be underrated, with Adam Driver, an alum from Girls giving an excellent turn, especially since he doesn’t just make it a mimicry of his performance on the aforementioned HBO comedy.

There’s a lot of good in Frances Ha, and when it’s good, it’s great. From the stunning photography to a pair of great performances at its core, it feels like a breath of fresh air, light in tone, with perfectly contrasting moments of darkness. It’s not without faults, from pacing that’s a little off, as well as characterisation (and the cheap jokes that come with it) that feel like nothing more than a cheap one liner. But what’s most interesting about it is, since the credits rolled on the screening I was at, and since I finished writing this review, my admiration for the film has grown a little. It may sound strange or hyperbolic, but Frances Ha is a film to fall in love with.



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Review – Silver Linings Playbook

I don’t like traditional romantic comedies. They tend to be cliche and boring, and they seem to give the impression that all you need to do is fix yourself up a little and show some dedication in order to win your potential partner, which is a little how Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) feels after his stint in the mental institution at the beginning of Silver Linings Playbook.

Fortunately, this is not a traditional romantic comedy.

As I’ve mentioned, Pat just gets out of a mental institution after nearly beating his (ex) wife’s lover to death. But of course, on getting out, he’s going to exercise, read his ex’s high school syllabus that she’s teaching, and then, all will be well, right?

Well, not exactly.

On returning home, Pat is reunited with his parents, Dolores (Jacki Weaver, playing a mother who is the very opposite of her Oscar nominated matriarch from Animal Kingdom, she does good work here with reasonably limited material), and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t a comeback performance for the ages. But more on that later), who more or less welcome him with open arms, trying to accept his adjusting to life beyond the hospital, and his eccentricities, like his fascination with everything having a silver lining.

Of course, in his attempts to exercise in order to win his wife, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany is… Something, to put it mildly, a young widow adjusting to life without her husband, and her own depression, which manifested itself in the form of promiscuity after the death of her husband. Lawrence’s performance has been earning raves since the film came out, and rightly show, she brings empathy to the character, powerfully showing the ups and downs of her conditions, at times delicate, and at times incredibly volatile, her performance is excellent.

Earlier, I mentioned De Niro’s performance, describing it as a comeback for the ages, and I’d like to talk about that in a little more detail. De Niro has obviously always been a fantastic actor, and has the Oscars to prove it. But as of late, he’s been performing in slightly… Sub par projects, so to speak. But here, the material is excellent, and he is excellent in it. Pat Sr. also has a little mental eccentricity (OCD), like so many other characters in the film. He plays the disorder so well, the little nuances of adjusting things in the room so that they’re ‘just so’, and as well as playing him as well as the struggling father trying to help his son. De Niro, much like Lawrence, will likely be given an Oscar nomination come awards time, and this one is certainly well deserved.

One of the best things about the film is the energy that it has, it is constantly in motion, from the kinetic camerawork and editing to the sheer energy of the performances and the choreography (a dance competition plays a major part in the film’s plot). It’s always on the move, and this makes it a joy to watch. But of course, it’s not just high speed, laugh a minute comedy, there’s surprisingly powerful drama at work here, that the excellent script and performances bring out with ease.

Of course, it’s far from perfect, and in it’s final act, it does embrace those rom-com conventions that it stayed so far away from to begin with. But even then, it isn’t too glaring a fault, since the film has still embraced the oddball nature of it’s plot and characters, it doesn’t feel at all out of place for it to end the way it does.

All in all, this film is absolutely excellent. High energy direction and camerawork punctuate the great comedy, and the sheer quality of the cast allows the drama to blend in without a hitch. Expect nominations across the board, particularly for Lawrence and De Niro, who’s finally coming back to high quality acting, and doing so in spectacular fashion.

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