Poor Brooklyn. Whatever did it do to merit the sort of musicians and film makers that have lately come to sully its streets with such studied insouciance? And so little to show for it.
Noah Baumbach is part of that group of terribly clever indie film makers that includes Wes Anderson, Spike Jones and a couple of the Coppolas. After his fourth film though, the genuinely charming The Squid and the Whale (’04) it looked as if a serious film maker had arrived on the scene.
But the three films he followed that up with, Margot at the Wedding (’07), Greenberg (’10) and now Frances Ha all have that irritating air of being far too clever by half.
You can see what’s he done. He’s taken three classic, indie film scenarios, but instead of then producing the sort of whimsical, offbeat but quietly charming story that the set up suggests, he’s taken the protagonists and workshopped them to death. Every time you expect them to go one way he forces them in the exact opposite direction. It’s a sort of test, to see how far the audience will go along with it, and how much they’ll put up with.
So Frances Ha is the story of a late 20 something who is forced to make the journey from adolescence into adulthood. But instead of in any way moving on, romantically, job-wise or on any level, by the end of the film she’s in exactly the same place. And instead of any scenes that might be deemed either charming or humorous, they’re all just quietly embarrassing. Geddit?
If he wants to alienate the audience, as Todd Solondz does, brilliantly, then he should do so properly. But he clearly has a gift for making romantic comedies that manage to be genuinely engaging. And that deal seriously with the trials and tribulations of adult life in a sophisticated and nuanced way.
Baumbach needs to go back and have another look at Annie Hall and Manhattan. And especially at the way in which the former was re-shot and edited when Woody Allen saw how much more interested the audience were in the relationship between Allen and Diane Keaton.
Because if you can make films on that kind of level – and he seems to be able to – then that is not a gift to be squandered lightly. When you sacrifice warmth for specious cleverness like this, all you end up doing is annoying the audience. And that’s not funny or clever.
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