Last night I had to end a phone call with an old friend because “I [was] going to see the new Star Trek movie” at the local second-run movie theater. He said, at first, not having seen it, he looked forward to hearing what I thought about it, but then, “I’ll just read the essay you write as I’m sure you’re writing one right now in your head already.” Perhaps this was in fact inevitable; however, I have been both slightly frustrated and unyieldingly inspired by my recent circumstances, standing before a massive reservoir of essays dammed by packing up my life in California and moving it box by box back to Portland, Oregon from where I graduated and moved four-odd years before. Whatever thoughts that provoked questions in the movie-going experience or answered previous ones would be a drop in the bucket, so to speak, waiting in disheveled and/or liquid queue with: an unfinished essay about a visit to the world’s first freeway stack interchange in Los Angeles; an appreciation of my father’s “freshly pressed” blog chronicling the eviction of his Adenocarcinoma, some various thoughts about Ethan Hawke; a minimally completed erotic novel; the third in a trilogy of vaguely avant-garde books about a recurring trip from California to Washington; and an essay about what it means to be 27 years old and seeing my birthday as more likely than a tragic yet beautiful death.
It turns out, I learned after bidding telephonic farewell to my friend and rejoining my fellow movie-goers, that we had realized, and I had forgotten, that Star Trek: Into Darkness showed at 7pm and that we decided to see Frances Ha at 9 instead. I thus had to amend my invitation to my colleague, the co-editor and co-contributor of the Van Duzer Corridor, as she had seen the movie we were now seeing and the intended experience I had accidentally invited her to was already no doubt fully submerged in some assuredly heady J.J. Abrams postmodern sci-fi mindfuck yet to be experienced by this author.
I remember now I also had intended to write an essay about how United States of Tara represents various facts about the various identities of present-day “television.”
I first became aware of Frances Ha after substitute teaching a day of Kindergarten in Monterey, California and driving my father’s Prius back to my parents’ house in the Pastures of Heaven. This afternoon Terry Gross was interviewing Greta Gerwig, the star, eponymous character and co-writer of the film in question, and Noah Baumbach, the director and co-writer. Considering how disappointing Greenberg was (the last Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig collaboration [though she didn’t co-write the script] that came out when I still worked at an independent movie theater in Monterey), and how excited Terry Gross was about it (interviewing Ben Stiller, Greenberg‘s eponymous character, and the guy from LCD Sound System who contributed to the soundtrack), and considering still the extent to which Terry Gross of late has seemed to jump on cultural phenomena that have already jumped the shark, so to speak, or at least peaked w/r/t cultural relevance, only now becoming economically viable (it turns out I missed the April 1, 2010 interview with Toni Collette, star and Tara [along with a few other characters] of United States of Tara; google has thwarted my theory that Fresh Air [and the media as a whole] killed the show by ignoring it…), I was not anxious to see Frances Ha, as evidenced by the fact that I did not see it until three months after its release.
I was assured, at least, an interesting experience in watching Frances Ha as The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg most certainly provided, and the Laurelhurst Theater charges a mere four dollars. Baumbach’s films (I don’t know his ’90s work) are superficially artful and watching them is a fun exercise in identifying what artful cinema is, as each effort is so contrived and self-aware that a pop-up video version of his films would be an instructive way of pinpointing art cinema cliches and referring the viewer to actually inventive work of the French New Wave or ’70s American films. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but many members of my generation, convinced Baumbach destroyed the trajectory of Wes Anderson’s career, might argue worse citing, for example, this picture:
(I never “finished” an essay I endeavored to write on Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.)
Having said all that, Frances Ha is captivating, refreshing and as exciting as seeing Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise for the first time. It possesses the cinema verité individuality of an off-the-map young auteur (let’s say, Greta Gerwig) and the accessibility and coherence of a seasoned veteran (Baumbach, in this example), and a play therein (therebetween?). It’s almost as though Gerwig produced one of those rambling, mumbling borderline-boring movies that brought her to prominence five years ago (Baghead, for example) and Baumbach, just off a recent Godard binge, jump cut between these improvised so-real-that-you-can-only-see-the-scene-as-two-people-trying-to-act, often in mid-sentence, a black-and-white sequential tapestry that catalogues a young woman starring in a low-budget independent movie. However, it is Gerwig and only Gerwig that makes this film real and a celebration of youth and the confusion and recklessness youth itself celebrates. She is bumbling through a world of mainstream success, signifiers of New York City self-actualization, actors from HBO commercial successes the Newsroom and Girls, while her own HBO series, an adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections was not picked up (the dancer for whom she is an understudy is played by the obviously talented new actress who plays the new object of affection Jim Harper on The Newsroom; the creepy boyfriend on Girls plays one of her many roommates; Greta Gerwig is not Lena Dunham [who will be 27 for whole goddamn more year and already writes/stars/directs her own HBO show] nor Grace Gummer [who literally was born within four days of Dunham and also won’t be 27 until next May]). She serves and shadows the rich and accomplished, gets drunk and drops deep monologues that the self-satisfied others of the film don’t even comprehend, brilliant lines that fall flat like an expected and uncalled-for moment of honesty at a dinner party with acquaintances, or a similarly unexpected moment of truth in a Noah Baumbach movie. Lines not ready for strangers.
What is the place of a twenty seven year old so idiosyncratic the world isn’t ready to understand her, so unique that she can only communicate successfully with one best friend who has endured the requisite decade necessary for loving and understanding her? Does she give up when four-odd years of post-graduate drift have produced nothing but failure? These are questions to myself as well, three weeks from 28. Those with his or her shit together are authoritatively on his or her way at my age and those who are those who break the mold are already dead. Frances Ha shows and proves that middle ground, that even an actress that hardly acts can produce brilliance, just as someone without an income from his creative projects still produces and manages to stay inspired, who manages to write an essay on the new Star Trek movie without even watching it. Greta [I just typed the mistaken anagram “Great”] Gerwig was 27 when this film was conceived, and is now 29 and an undeniable success. Perhaps I will be as well.