A landmark in cinematic self-love.Jun 3, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 36 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Not once, not twice, but three times in the course of the 86-minute running time of the extravagantly praised Frances Ha is the title character shown running through Manhattan. Once, we see her running with her best friend. Another time we see her running to find an ATM. Then we see her running while improvising dance moves.
This is meant to show us Frances’s exuberance, her zest, her joie de vivre in the course of this the-way-these-kids-today-live-now movie. Frances may be 27, she may be penniless, she may be struggling, she may not be able to make a solid relationship with a man, and she may not have the dancing talent she desperately wants to have. But she can’t help but run!
Young people used to run a lot in French movies of the early 1960s—one thinks of Jeanne Moreau and her two suitors in François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, who positively gamboled. But that was a time when directors like Truffaut were discovering the excitement of having cameras following people as they moved through real places in natural light. Those scenes brought a new informality and intimacy to the movies—50 years ago.
Today, bits like Frances running through Manhattan evoke not Truffaut but a commercial for an antidepressant that needs lots of background footage of people doing active things while the narrator talks rapidly about all the potential side effects. Indeed, the running and running and running seems more like a depressed person’s idea of what a nondepressed person is like than a genuine expression of vivacity. Whatever it is, it’s very, very false.
Like HBO’s Girls, Frances Ha is another one of these portraits of struggling young people made by wildly successful young people. Frances Ha was cowritten by its star, Greta Gerwig, who has been appearing in movies as a writer and director and leading performer since she was an undergraduate at Barnard. Like Lena Dunham, the star and author of Girls, she is not yet 30 and has known nothing but what it is like to be garlanded for the entirety of her adulthood.
Girls is a far more tough-minded piece of work than Frances Ha, because Dunham seems to find her contemporaries irritating in their shiftlessness. By contrast, Gerwig seems to be showing compassion and understanding for the travails of women her own age; but the whole project features more than a faint whiff of condescension and contempt. Gerwig and her collaborator, director Noah Baumbach, almost seem to be patting Frances on the head for sticking with it even though it’s just so very hard for her.
Baumbach fell in love with Gerwig when they made the brilliant and difficult Greenberg together in 2010 (he left his wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, for her), and the movie is clearly designed to be a valentine to her much in the way Annie Hall was Woody Allen’s valentine to his ex-love, Diane Keaton. He wants to bathe her in soft light, let her show the world her charmingly off-kilter way of moving and talking, give her a chance to exercise her acting chops in a few dramatic scenes, and make her a star the way Allen did Keaton.
But the thing is, Diane Keaton was funny, and Annie Hall was a romantic comedy—and I don’t know what Frances Ha is. It feels like a comedy, but there are very few laughs in it. And as for romance, the only one on display here is between Frances and her best friend from college, Sophie. What little plot there is has to do with Sophie pulling away from Frances as she pairs off with a Wall Street guy; Frances’s heartbreak is not over her failure to find a suitable mate but the loss of her friend. That is an honest life dynamic, and the movie is best in its exploration of it.
There are good little things scattered through Frances Ha—as when Frances takes a spur-of-the-moment two-day trip to Paris she can’t afford and is jet-lagged or passed out through most of it—but the effort by critics to pump it and Gerwig up into something original and socially significant is bizarre. This is a tiny and inconsequential movie about someone who is not very interesting. If Frances Ha existed in real life, Greta Gerwig would be far too busy to bother with her. And so should you be.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.
Impressive intentions yield less-than-impressive resultsApr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
What does it mean to say a movie is an “epic”? An epic uses its characters and plot to illuminate a place, an era, an entire society. We are constantly being reminded, through camera work and art direction, that what we’re watching is something larger and more socially significant than its plot. The action is always placed within a wider context, historically and geographically, and the characters we’re watching move through the story as though they are actors on a grand stage.
A sweet sideshow in South Vietnam.Apr 15, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 29 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The surprise of The Sapphires is how unpretentious and unportentous it is, considering that its plot hinges not only on racist Australian policy but also the Vietnam war. Based loosely on a true story, The Sapphires is about four aboriginal girls (ranging in age from 15 to mid-20s) who turn themselves into a girl group and go on tour in Vietnam in 1968 entertaining the troops.
6:00 PM, Apr 11, 2011 • By EMILY SCHULTHEIS
Kelly Jane Torrance reviews Joe Wright's new movie, Hanna:
Films are sometimes described as "vehicles" for the big names that headline them. "Arthur," the remake of the 1981 film that opened this weekend, was made simply to showcase the outsize personality of Russell Brand. It's not often a film looks like a vehicle for a young, relatively new talent -- let alone one with a name few Americans can even pronounce.
It’s not the usual obstacle in the way of romance.Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by George Nolfi
The Adjustment Bureau is the most surprising movie I’ve seen in ages, a full-fledged, unabashed, swoony romance in the guise of a paranoid science-fiction thriller. Every romance is about a couple meant to be together that must navigate and overcome the obstacles the movie strews in their path. The Adjustment Bureau turns this on its head. It’s a movie about two people who are not supposed to be together. The force pulling Matt Damon and Emily Blunt apart isn’t family, or career, or an inconvenient partner. It’s God. God Himself doesn’t want them to be together. How can two people overcome that? And should they?
How one Roman legion held together against the common enemy.Feb 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 23 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Modern British history as the cinema likes to remember it.Feb 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 20 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The King’s Speech is a winsome fantasy, as unreal in its way as Avatar. The science-fiction blockbuster succeeded in making an entirely animated world seem as though it actually existed. The King’s Speech, set in 1930s Britain and featuring famous personages, converts a stratified historical past into a comforting egalitarian dreamscape.
A classic gets the Coen Brothers treatment.Jan 17, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 17 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
'Never Let Me Go' is really about cloning, no matter what they say4:26 PM, Oct 12, 2010 • By GINA R. DALFONZO
Never Let Me Go is a haunting exploration of what humans can do to one another, how they can attempt to redefine the very concept of humanity in order to exploit those they see as subhuman. It tackles these themes as skillfully and memorably as any film of recent years, perhaps even more than most. It does this by taking an idea that’s usually relegated to loud, explosive action films and spinning it into a quiet, deeply powerful drama.
An interesting failure, with a 3-D spectacle.
12:00 AM, Mar 5, 2010 • By SONNY BUNCH
When thinking about Tim Burton’s latest film, one phrase kept popping into my head: “Interesting failure.” It’s not the first time those two words have been fused together to describe a Burton feature: The gothic-minded filmmaker has a penchant for churning out films that look fantastic but never quite mesh together into a satisfying whole.
Consider his latest, a pseudo-sequel to Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland. Burton’s feature is set a decade or so after the events of Carroll’s book. Alice is grown, having forgotten her first venture into the world of Wonderland and has a lord waiting to ask her hand in marriage. Feeling pressure from all sides and no control over her own destiny, Alice takes off, chasing a white rabbit down a hole and returning to Wonderland.
A liberal masterpiece?12:00 AM, Feb 26, 2010 • By SONNY BUNCH
As far as utterly pointless, unnecessary retreads go, The Crazies isn’t all that bad. The lead actors – Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell – are both far superior to their counterparts in the original 1973 film from George Romero. The camerawork is more slick and the editing less choppy. The special effects have been buffed and given a nice, glossy sheen.
The plot remains relatively simple: A military airplane has crashed outside the Iowa hamlet of Ogden Marsh, releasing a deadly virus into the water that turns people into murderous “crazies.” Aware of the disease and the threat it would pose to life as we know it if it were to spread, the military initiates a quarantine and separates the sick from the healthy.
Michael Haneke and authorial intent.12:00 AM, Feb 19, 2010 • By SONNY BUNCH
A black and white period piece set in Germany in the year before the outbreak of World War I, The White Ribbon is a look at the formative events of the generation that would go on to form the Third Reich in the years after this picture. In a recent interview with Cineaste, Austrian director/provocateur Michael Haneke was asked about his thoughts on the meaning of his latest film, The White Ribbon.