Another pearl from Charlotte Hornsby on the newest Noah Baumbach film.
We, the followers and the followed, the tagged and untagged, the liked and the retweeted are building a Xanadu writ in html, a constant feed of pictures and updates that allows everyone to share his or her story… so long as it isn’t boring.
Yes, I’m being sensational, but isn’t that what social media is good at? When was the last time you saw a status update about a trip to Milwaukee or an instagram of a frozen dinner? My Facebook newsfeed often looks just as mouthwatering and envy-inspiring as the sidebar advertisements I try to tune out. The scrolling slideshow of my friends’ rooftop cookouts, rosewater gelatos, French Riviera selfies, and vignetted sunsets all look so appealing I would probably buy them if they were on the market (and I’m just as guilty, posting photos of everything I eat that has a garnish.) It seems that social media has granted our common human wish to be exceptional by letting us edit our lives, select what we show of ourselves and omit the unsavory, all in the seemingly gallant name of telling (and un-tagging) our life story.
But what if your story sucks? What if it’s a boring story? What if it goes “I’m trying to do the thing I love but I’m not good enough yet to make a living, so to pay rent I got an office job and now I fill a spreadsheet with other peoples’ engagements”? That is the story of Frances, the clumsy but lion-hearted protagonist of Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach’s new film he co-wrote with leading actress Greta Gerwig. Frances is a 20-something dancer trying to make a career in New York. Halfway through the film the head of the dance company where Frances understudies tells Frances they won’t be needing her for the Christmas recital. Being told you’re not good enough is always painful, but the pain throbs the hardest in New York where the streets are packed with people out to prove they are noteworthy. Crushed and unable to pay rent, Frances moves out of her apartment and takes a job at her old college where she lives in a dorm room and serves wine to wealthy donors.
The fumbling episodes in Frances’s life come as a huge relief to this movie-goer, and provoke laughter and empathy in equal measure. Watching Frances trip on the way to the bank, scald her hand on a kettle in her barren apartment, sleep through her Parisian vacation and spew unfiltered thoughts to her wary dinner companions feels like a much-needed antidote to my Facebook newsfeed. It’s a compilation of all the parts we want to edit out of our own lives: the let-downs, the slip-ups, the comment we wish we could un-say, the pimple we wish we could un-pop. And if watching the newsfeed parade of our friends’ awards, vacations and bridal bouquets can tend to alienate us in envy, watching Frances go through the quotidian effort of trying to earn said awards, vacations etc. bands us together in commiseration and compassion.
It’s so far from the story you would want to publish about yourself, or what we even think constitutes a story that it’s no wonder Greta Gerwig had reservations about telling it. The co-writer explained this in an interview with Hollywood.com.
I think if I were left alone I wouldn’t have the courage to say, ‘I’m going to tell the story of a 27-year-old dancer and her best friend and their money troubles.’ That wouldn’t feel like enough of a story for me, and it was the fact that [Noah Baumbach] said, ‘Oh, I think this can be really good, and I have a lot of empathy for this.’ That allowed me to feel more magnanimous towards my generation than I might be otherwise, because I can be just as critical as anyone else.
The fact that the actress did tell this story in spite of her own doubts that it would reach an audience is echoed in the last scene of the film when Frances presents a dance she choreographed to her friends and peers. The dance is just as idiosyncratic as Frances. And as the camera pans over the audience we watch them recognize the rhythms and gestures of their friend in the kid-like joy of a synchronized tumble and the frolicsome arch of a spine. And as members of the larger audience we get to see the world as reflected in Greta and Noah’s eyes and refracted in their art.. a new view of people colliding and synchronizing and separating that connects with the world we each know, and enriches it.
For Frances’ story shows us that yes, we are flawed and fumbling but we were also each made singular and unique with the ability to marvel at beauty and to express our wonder at a love whose reaches we cannot know. The temptation to look like we have our act together can often get in the way of truly connecting. It’s hard to relate to a mosaic of carefree images that bear no resemblance to our daily struggles. It’s hard to connect to the mirage of a person who is always having fun. Thankfully we have the opportunity to truly connect and enrich each other by expressing our unique shortcomings, our own breed of wonder and our flailing but wholly loved selves.
Or get in touch.