The Toronto International Film Festival is part Oscar showcase, part film store, with studios bringing their Oscar hopefuls (i.e. The Weinstein Company’s The Master, Warner Brothers’ Argo), and directors showcasing their films in hopes of finding a distributor to bring their films to theaters. Earlier this week, Focus picked up Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine follow-up A Place Beyond the Pines. Lionsgate will put out Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and will also team up with Roadside Attractions to release Imogene and Thank You For Sharing. And IFC, who already purchased Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, is rumored to be close to purchasing my favorite film of the festival, Frances Ha.
It is perhaps unfortunate that Frances Ha and the HBO series Girls are hitting screens in the same year. There are a lot of similarities— both projects center on a smart, young New Yorker, struggling to find her way in the city and in her chosen artistic profession (dance and writing, respectively). Both women are low on money and live in Brooklyn with their best college girlfriends (and both actresses who play these friends have famous lineage— Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha is the daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, and Allison Williams in HBO’s Girls is Brian Williams’ daughter). Frances and Hannah from Girls even share a male suitor— Variety “Actor To Watch” Adam Driver appears in the show and film.
Yes, their fact sheets are similar, but Frances and Hannah are different girls, and each deserves attention in her own right.
Director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig wrote the script for Frances Ha together (they are also together as a couple). Baumbach has written well about how lost one can feel after college in his first film, Kicking and Screaming (1995). In fact, the post grads featured in that film graduated from the same college as Frances, although they were there some 10 to 15 years earlier. But the revelation in Frances Ha is Gerwig and what she brings to the screenplay and screen. Frances and thus the film in general have this subtle realness to them; you know this girl or maybe you kind of were this girl.
Frances is refreshing because she is searching, but she is not completely tortured by the same clichéd problems. Her family doesn’t drive her crazy—they actually seem to be supportive of their aspiring dancer. She is not necessarily looking for love—she dates, but it is not the point of her story. She is searching, but her search seems bigger than one for a boyfriend.
While watching the film, I was won over by the small moments, whether Frances is enjoying a New York day with her best friend, trying to choreograph a dance, struggling to find the right words to use in an awkward situation. I got the sense that Gerwig is writing about something that she somehow knows, and when I compare that to other films that I watched during the festival, I think the problem is a lot of people aren’t doing that. The scale of this movie is intimate, and there are a few moments that I can point to that I would say came close to perfection on the screen—they were just lovely, perfect, small moments. And during a festival, those are the moments one searches for, and feels lucky to ever find.