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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride


A romantic comedy without kisses, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (co-written with Greta Gerwig) is a vest-pocket Manhattan, a monochrome charmer about the mistakes a young striver makes at the elder age of 27, before her true, adult life begins, sometime shortly after the film’s “a-ha” of a final shot that illuminates the cryptic title. (And announces that all we have seen before is mere comic prelude.) Frances is getting past the proper time to be the dancer she intends to be, and the film neatly choreographs her progress toward her true and proper profession. But that’s not to say Frances, and Gerwig by extension, isn’t a creature of physicality. Gerwig’s her own Mabel Dormand to her inner Mack Sennett: there’s good and proper slapstick throughout and she’s electric throughout. Her Frances is self-consciously unselfconscious: a serious person inside a still-young shape. Shooting in restrained black-and-white, and drawing from scores by 1960s Georges Delerue themes from movies including King of Hearts, Promise at Dawn and  Contempt, Frances Ha is post-nouvelle vague, less derivative than richly cinephilic. Influence and citation are there, if you want it, if you see it, but it only enriches the portrait of this young woman whose trials in forbidding, pricey New York City drawn her closer to the woman she will be, the artist she will be, the character she will become.

Gerwig draws upon her well of previously-demonstrated charisma, her ample capacity for twerpitude refined, honed, elevated: what she does so well with the material given to her by Whit Stillman in Damsels In Distress is a dozen-fold more compelling in the hands of Baumbach and herself. The dialogue is quippy but genially barbed and seldom less than telling: the eccentric insult “You judge people who aren’t as moderate as you” tells more than Frances could ever know. As her roommate and best friend from college, Sophie, Mickey Sumner is somnolent but coiled, snappish but attentive, precisely sour. She makes Sophie an ideal counterpoint to the innately dorky Frances, bristling if not precisely hostile to her friend’s teeming Frances-ness. There are men, too, foils and acolytes but none of them the motor of the movie or her life. The jokes are plentiful, observant, irreverent, nonsensical and common sense, and Gerwig bursts out in flights of “Fuck!” as well as anyone working today. Frances Ha is a seriously funny movie.

Typical of its bustling bursts of setpieces, the film takes a fantastic leap in a scene following Frances running at top gait, leaping as the dancer that she is, through Chinatown streets, the laterally tracking camera fixing her as a succession of twenty-first-century Muybridge framings in motion, accompanied by David Bowie’s “Modern Love”—a thrill redoubled for those who have seen Leos Carax’s black-and-white debut, Boy Meets Girl, also a song of apartments and city streets. Her energy, the character’s headlong tumult, the clatter-bang instrumentation of the highly genial song: it’s precious, even. You laugh, you gasp, you love.

Frances Ha expands nationwide Friday.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon