Tag Archives: Frances Ha

The Truth Hurts: How HBO’s Girls is Growing Up

It seems very fitting to me that Girls, HBO’s much-discussed comedy/drama about the exploits of a group of female college graduates (and another way of looking at the postgraduate ennui that appears in the likes of Kicking and Screaming, Tiny Furniture and Frances Ha). Much of the discussion around the show has been around the frank way it treats sexuality, and the unapologetic narcissism of central character Hannah Horvath. One thing that seems to have been absent from the discussion of the show is just how well the development and what can perhaps be described as maturing of the narrative mirrors the situation of the characters within it.

The three seasons the show has had thus far seem to present different outlooks on the world that these characters inhabit, but all of them seem to spin around the orbit of one thing: Hannah. Season one is very much what could be called the world according to Hannah, and at the core of her development throughout this season is establishing her psychologically and presenting us more with how she views the world as opposed to how she fits into it. I mean, the first season even has an episode (‘Hannah’s Diary’) where the crux of the dramatic action comes from an observation made in the diary that gives the episode it’s title. If that’s not a way of making us intimately familiar with a character’s views on the world and the people around them, I don’t know what is. The second season seems to present a more introspective point of view, closer to Hannah according to the world than the world according to Hannah. Although this introspection reaches it’s peak in the masterful episode ‘One Man’s Trash,’ the rest of the season looks very unapologetically at the impact Hannah’s actions have on those around her, seemingly exposing her to the idea of consequences for the first time, with the episode ‘Bad Friend,’ in which Hannah takes cocaine for a freelance piece, ends with a heated discussion between Hannah and Marnie about which of them is the bad friend, as well as ‘It’s Back’ and ‘On All Fours’ forcing Hannah to confront her uneven mental state when her OCD resurfaces.

These ideas of both Hannah’s views on the world and then, later, the world’s views on Hannah, lead very neatly onto the third season which seems to focus on, if anything, Hannah trying to fit into the “real world.” In season three, she even goes so far as to get a job writing ads for Vogue; not that it lasts too long, given that she quits out of fear that it will crush her creatively, but here we see a Hannah willing to compromise, doing something that is expected of her. Perhaps the most important aspect of the show, and Hannah with it, growing up, is the way her relationship with Adam is shown. Early in the first season, their relationship could be described as being friends-with-benefits on a good day, given Hannah says “when I’m with him he’s so real and so present, and then he seems to disappear and I feel like I invented him” (I’m paraphrasing a little, but that’s the crux of the quote) and perhaps what is ostensibly “grown up” about their relationship is that it changes and grows quite organically. Amidst the chaos of the opening of the second season, their relationship ends and their friendship becomes rocky and uneasy until they’re reunited in ‘Together,’ the season two finale. And it’s during season three that their relationship is at it’s most interesting, as well as being the best barometer of what I suppose you could call the maturity of the show, going on to illustrate the title of this piece; that the truth, in fact, hurts.

As has been mentioned, season three features what I suppose could be called Hannah’s unsuccessful attempt to join the workforce whereas, by contrast Adam manages to do so in glorious fashion, being cast in a Broadway revival of Major Barbara. Now, while there’s plenty of maturity in other places in this season, they sometimes seem to fall prey to that haphazardness that is effective for Girls sometimes, but seems now to be a bit out of place amongst certain plotlines; Jessa’s rehab story is interesting, although the sudden return of Richard E. Grant’s character that throws her into a downward spiral is so much less than the character deserves. To me, it’s when the focus of the season shifts towards Hannah and Adam’s relationship, the last “act” of season three I suppose you could call it, from Flo to Two Plane Rides, the focus becomes their relationship and what it says about the two of them, both together and as individuals.

The relationship between Hannah and Adam manages to teeter into a crisis without exploding into juvenile drama or anything too haphazard, it isn’t suddenly thrown at the wall like Jessa’s rehab/recovery/relapse story, it’s allowed to go to interesting places both new and old, and it’s the old ones that are the most interesting.

It’s near the end of season three, most specifically during ‘Role-Play’ when Hannah and Adam are forced to confront their relationship and particularly what it means to them as individuals; their compatibility and stability is questioned in an inspired way, during the sexual role play that gives the episode it’s name. The aforementioned sexual frankness that seemed to come as a necessary discussion point during the early years of Girls is once again making an appearance here, but when the show looks at sex in the same disassociated, angry way that it did in season one, it’s critical about it now. One of the first times we see Adam in season one – in either ‘Pilot’ or ‘Vagina Panic,’ I think it’s the latter – he’s having sex with Hannah and decides to proclaim he found her “on the street” and that she was “a junkie.” She catches on soon enough, but in the third season, when she’s worried that their relationship is getting stale, largely due to the time Adam is spending working on Major Barbara, she initiates a role-playing situation and, to understate it slightly, it goes awry. Borrowing a blonde wig and Marnie’s apartment, Hannah puts on the façade of a married woman who wants to be rather violently taken by Adam. Once Adam is convinced, it seems to be going well enough and there does seem to be a sort of spark that Hannah feared was missing, bur once they make it to Marnie’s apartment, things take a decidedly more sombre, especially when Hannah changes their sexual dynamic on the fly, which doesn’t sit well with Adam. It’s Adam who ends the tryst, coming clean about the root of their more aggressive sexual past, saying that “fucking is what stopped [him] from drinking,” and that he doesn’t want to be distant from her when they have sex, he wants to be “there” with her.

This tension between what the two of them want individually from their relationship ripples throughout their scenes in the rest of the season, particularly in ‘I Saw You’ when Adam moves out to focus on rehearsals for the play. Hannah, who by now could probably be called a world renowned neurotic, panics a lot and tries to hang on to Adam and their relationship as much as she can. However, where the sting of the truth is really felt, and when the show is perhaps at it’s most mature is during the finale, ‘Two Plane Rides,’ when Hannah gets into a grad school writing workshop in Ohio, something that could of course help her progress by leaps and bounds creatively, and she decides to go. Hannah’s narcissism is of course well known, but here we see her doing something that is good for her, something she’s doing for herself, not to spite others. It may be a little too soon to say, but it appears that Hannah, and some of the others in the motley crew that make up the cast of Girls are all grown up.

 

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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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