Frances Ha, 2012

“Do I look old to you?”

“No. Yes. How old?”

“Older than I am. Older than 27.”

“No. 27 is old, though.”

Here’s a little story: I first saw this on my 27th birthday. It was at a free screening a friend I didn’t know very well (but knew better then, than I do now) had invited me to. She didn’t know it was my birthday, until after, when I mentioned the coincidence of seeing this on my 27th birthday. 27 is a weird age to be. But I don’t think I’ve come far in the last 3 years.

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Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach (and co-written with Greta Gerwig who plays the titular Frances), follows a New York woman in her late 20s, stumbling through life as she tries to follow her dream of being a dancer, and navigate relationships, particularly with her best friend, Sophie. Since I first saw it, it’s become one of my favourites and this will be more of a personal post than a review of the film.

I recently watched this again, because I was feeling sad about my life, but the irony is that Frances? She has her life way more together than I do. So, it didn’t make me feel much better, except that it also did because, I do see a lot of myself in Frances. (Something a lot of people like to sneer at – how cliched, how woman-child of me, how awful to find comfort in seeing myself in a flawed fictional character!) I’m undateable, I’m a mess, I feel like my peers are so far ahead of me.

But it mostly made me sad because I feel so disconnected from my friends. I think this is something I’ve always felt, or felt for a long time, but my social circle is getting smaller and smaller the older I get.

I love, though, how this shows friendship in a way I feel so many other films still don’t (even, yes, ones about women). As something to prioritise but also the tenderness between Frances and Sophie, the betrayal Frances feels, that’s usually reserved for lovers onscreen. I’ve seen people comment on how Frances looks at Sofie, that this isn’t how we look at our friends but…isn’t it?

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Actually, I was thinking of how I like watching interviews or seeing photos of celebrities with their friends, and seeing that adoration in their eyes when they look at each other. There’s a gorgeous photo of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain that I think is a beautiful illustration of that.

Anyway, what I’m saying is, isn’t it nice to see media that doesn’t have such a strict definition of what friendship is meant to look like, how it should be written? I’m so tired of the narrow view of friendship that exists even in so-called progressive circles. Friends do give us butterflies in our stomachs, stars in our eyes, they break our hearts and hold our hands. They’re our soul mates.

(That’s not to say this reflects my own friendships with women (or anyone). Far from it. Maybe as a teen but not as an adult. I rarely hug my friends. I’ve told my best friend I love her once in twelve years after her wedding (other friends more but only in response if they say it first and not actually because I want to but because I feel like I have to). I’m emotionally constipated and can only communicate to my friends via pop cultural references half the time, but it doesn’t mean I love them any less. But that’s why I want to see more varied and nuanced portrayals of friendship – because they’re as complex as the humans involved in them are. Sometimes they are sharing the same bed, sometimes they’re not seeing each other for months on end.)

I’m not saying their relationship can’t be interpreted other ways (I encourage it – I love the way everyone will read movies and other media differently) but I balk at the idea that friendship cannot, or should not, look like this. It seems a very narrow view to me and I think it’s important to break down the idea of what certain relationships ‘should’ look like, so we can start to build relationships that work for us as individuals.

Originally posted on letterboxd.

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La La Land, 2016

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Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make.

A love song to LA and to old Hollywood (musicals), La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle, transcends, reinvents the genre it so clearly adores. It’s familiar but it’s not a copy, not trying to be. It’s romantic and nostalgic, just like its main characters Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Magic, pure and simple.

The movie centres on Mia and Sebastian, an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist both living in Los Angeles. The film tracks their story as they meet, fall in love and follow their dreams.

I haven’t had a movie hit me this hard in a long time. I wrote this, nearly an hour after I left the cinema, and I still wanted to cry (did cry) from the sheer beauty and joy (and more than a little melancholy) of what I had just experienced. I didn’t want to step out of this film, come back to reality.

It was more than those feelings, though – it was also that I love musicals so much. They mean so much to me. And to see a movie that is basically an extended love song to them, to that classic period of (Hollywood) musicals, that is also a really beautiful, moving film on its own was overwhelming.

(In the car, on the way home, I am asked what’s wrong? And I say, through my blubbering, ‘I just liked the movie so much.’ (And I temper my words, I loved it, not liked it, because emotions embarrass me, but my tears tell another story).)

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The chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is fantastic, they play off each other beautifully. The music, even in the ‘worst’ songs conveyed exactly what it needed to. It’s also one of the most magically beautiful movies my eyes have feasted on in some time. The costumes are perfect and it is photographed exquisitely. The observatory scene was whimsical and moving. The whole ending sequence took my breath away. I nearly couldn’t contain myself through it. A little sob escaped me.

Is this what audiences felt like in the 40s and 50s seeing the stars dance across the screen in technicolor? Those glorious sets and costumes and colours, more real, more beautiful, than reality, and all the better for it. To be whisked away to this magical place left me breathless. It’s not that other new movies don’t bring me joy or awe me but this was a whole other experience. I almost can’t articulate what it was. The feeling as I was writing this, the feeling I had watching the film. It filled me so that words could not capture it. Maybe music could. Maybe jazz could.

Also, I am more than ready for a musical renaissance. Surely the time for their resurrection has come! Not this dribbling of releases we get, but a full flood. Please.

La La Land opens in cinemas around Australia on Boxing Day.

Originally posted on letterboxd.

Further reading:

‘La La Land’ Makes Musicals Matter Again at The New York Times

Girl Asleep, 2015

You know when you see a film & it reminds you why you love cinema & you’re excited about that love and about cinema all over again? Girl Asleep, directed by Rosemary Myers, did that for me.

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It’s an impressive debut feature from Myers, who made the jump from theatre to film with Girl Asleep. I’d been kicking myself for not seeing it at least year’s Adelaide Film Festival (where it won the People’s Choice for best feature) so went to see it ASAP after it got a general release here. And I’m so glad I did. It’s my favourite film of the year. I was totally enchanted by this strange little world full of loveable weirdos. (Eliott, who is completely adorable, reminded me of a boy I went to high school with .)

Set in the ’70s it’s perfectly designed (and filmed in 1:1) from costumes to sets – the school reminded both myself and my friend of our own respective high schools. It was that blend of familiarity (the settings, finding people I know in the characters, the experiences) with the absurd and fantasy that drew me in so fully. And I always love seeing Adelaide on film.

It’s surreal, but full of heart and imagination, with not a little whimsy. It’s also hilarious (with no shortage of visual gags) and delves into the darker interior world of being an awkward teenage girl, of being an outsider. It’s quite different in (current) Australian film with its stylised nature and influences from the likes of Wes Anderson to David Lynch. In some ways, for me, it harks back to the sensibility of Strictly Ballroom and Muriel’s Wedding, with larger than life characters, who don’t become caricatures. They are still relatable.

Bethany Whitmore is fantastic in the lead role as Greta with her almost permanently perplexed expression. She’s very easy to relate to. And the rest of the cast , including the trio of mean girls, round out this world created by Myers and writer Matthew Whittet (who also plays Greta’s father) to perfection.

The dream/fantasy sequence was a little jarring at first but I quite liked that jump because dreams, themselves, can be so jarring. I liked the little bits of fantasy woven throughout the rest of the narrative, too. And the intertitles! I loved those. Very cleverly done.

This is one of those frustrating times where my limited writing skills really let me down because I just can’t articulate what I love about this movie but if you get a chance to see it, please do. I meant to post this much earlier, when it was still screening here, but life and other things got in the way (which is also why this isn’t as different from my letterboxd review as I was aiming for it to be). This is one I’m looking forward to revisiting.

 

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, 2016

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, directed by Mandie Fletcher, is based on the TV show Absolutely Fabulous, created by Jennifer Saunders. I grew up on Ab Fab and various other British sitcoms, whether or not they were ‘appropriate’ for my age. (Many, such as this, likely weren’t, but I enjoyed them). I have a huge soft spot for Eddy (Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) and everyone else in their world, so I was tentatively looking forward to this film.

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I had a feeling this wouldn’t blow me away, and it didn’t, but it was fun enough and not as terrible as many have found it to be.

When the jokes fall flat they fall right on their face, much as Eddy herself is prone to do. Some of the ‘jokes’ were just outright offensive (which isn’t surprising), and obviously trying to keep the humour ‘up to date’, but there were a lot of good laughs, too. Ab Fab is really better in the format of a TV show – the humour doesn’t stretch well enough over a feature – but the slapstick and parody that I love kept me interested.

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It was fun to see all the old familiar faces, including my favourite Bubble (played brilliantly by Jane Horrocks) and Magda, Fleur and Catriona are always good for a laugh, as is Mrs Monsoon. Julia Sawalha returns as Eddy’s long-suffering daughter, Saffy, still as square as ever, the perfect foil to Eddy.

My favourite thing about Eddy is that she’ll have these revelatory moments (usually brought about by Saffy, who is her voice of reason and conscience, the angel on her shoulder, with Patsy being the devil on her other shoulder) but she never really changes or learns.

I don’t know why I love that about her. In another kind of show, it could be frustrating – that there’s no character growth (though we see she isn’t as shallow as she seems and she does love Saffy), but in a sitcom, it feels welcome.

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And I know I’m meant to laugh at Eddy’s over-the-top outfits but, honestly, I would definitely wear some of her ensembles. (Or if I were brave enough, I would).

I’ll always love Patsy and Eddy and I definitely enjoyed the film but, I will say, I do hope it’s their last hurrah.

Originally posted on letterboxd.

Advantageous, 2015

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Advantageous, directed by Jennifer Phang, is a quietly impactful film that has a lot to say about gender, ageism and race. It does this through the narrative of  main character, Gwen (Jacqueline Kim), a woman who is forced to go to drastic measures after she is fired from the Center For Advanced Living and Health, when they decide to go in a younger direction for their public face.

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Kim is magnificent as Gwen, giving a restrained, poignant performance, and it’s just a crime she’s not starring in more features. (Kim also co-wrote the script with director Jennifer Phang). Freya Adams, who plays Gwen 2.0, is convincing as a woman struggling to adjust to who she is, disconnected from everything and everyone around her, from her own body (which betrays her, causes her pain).

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It has a very touching mother/daughter relationship at its centre (Gwen is motivated by doing what’s best for her daughter’s future, wanting to secure her a position in an elite school), which will always draw me in. There are some achingly beautiful moments between Gwen and her daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim). They are the heart of the film. Family is a theme that runs through the story, as Gwen tries to reconnect with a cousin, wants her help so she will not have to go through with the procedure. She doesn’t get the help she wants when she needs it but the family does tentatively reconnect.

It’s slick and stylish and very understated in its vision of a dystopian future, using cool tones and lots of light to make the world outside feel sterile. Gwen and Jules’s apartment is snug and cosy, by contrast. I love my sci-fi (nearly) any way I can get it, but it’s quiet, thoughtful films like this that get under my skin and stay with me. Some of the points it makes are, perhaps, a little obvious but sometimes I think plain speak is better than a whole heap of metaphors and allusions.

There is hope in the ending, for Gwen and Jules and their family, at least, but the uneasiness that permeates the film is not resolved. It is still there in the others who have undergone the same procedure, if you think about the implications of being able to transfer consciousness from one body to another, discarding ‘undesirable’ bodies for more socially acceptable ones. It’s a terrifying thought.

It was released exclusively to Netflix, so if you have an account, definitely check it out. (I’m assuming it’s on Netflix in all regions).

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