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Hey, lookie, it’s probably the best film so far this year!

I’m not really sure how to express that properly though, as being one of the best films that have come out this year.  But I’ll try.

This films succeeds largely on the shoulders of Greta Gerwig, who gives a marvelous performance as the title character.  She’s a fun character, she’s engaging, and she’s enjoyable.  She’s also sporadic and frustrating, and can’t easily tell the truth.  She’s like any twenty-something who is trying to figure life out but ends up making stupid decisions that affect her, but there’s also things that end up largely out of her control and there’s nothing she can do.  Then there are the moments when she has complete control, and instead of taking it, she sidesteps it for no explicable reason (there was one moment during the film that I wanted to yell my frustration at the screen).

There’s no real forward momentum in the film, such that life can be (one wakes up, go through the days events, then goes back to sleep, repeat ad nauseum).  It does cover about a year in Frances’ life and the things that happen around her: her best friend Sophie decides to move first to a more expensive part of NYC, then to Japan with her boyfriend; France moves in with a couple random guys who quickly find out how undateable she is; she wants to dance, but can’t get beyond the apprentice level.  She goes to several places in the film (Sacramento to visit her family, a random weekend in Paris, and a summer in her alma mater).  The ending goes well for her and a lot of other characters that show up in the film, though she doesn’t change one bit, which is fine.  There are occasions where characters don’t change at all in the course of a film, simply because this is a slice of life and there’s no real reason for them to change (Happy-Go-Lucky is one such example of a great film where Poppy doesn’t change at all).  I can’t tell if her ending is earned though, especially during the more frustrating bits of the film.  As short as the film was (only 86 minutes), it could have used probably one or two more scenes to connect things better.

This film has also made me wonder if I’ll ever get Noah Baumbach.  I saw Greenberg a few years ago and, at the time, hated it a lot because of Ben Stiller’s character and how much of a disruptive and unchanging asshole he was.  I’ll have to rewatch it again though at some point, mainly to see if my opinion has changed, because it seems like that’s the kind of characters Baumbach likes to write about[1].  That said, he does make really good films, and his characters, as frustrating they can be, are fully realized persons.  The writing is top notch too between Baumbach and Gerwig.  It helps that this movie is hilarious, and probably the funniest film of the year because everything clicks so well.  The monochromatic color scheme is interesting as well, with some pretty good choices in wardrobe and such.

I caught this movie at the tail end of its box office run, so it’ll be out of theaters really soon.  Definitely catch it though when it makes it to DVD and VOD.  I can’t recommend it enough.  Just see it.

[1] Then again, Core saw Margot at the Wedding and loathed it completely, so I don’t think I’m the only one who doesn’t get Baumbach.

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I’m going to say this up front: I didn’t like this film.

Out of the way?  Good.

Now, that doesn’t diminish the quality of the film.  It works pretty well.  The performances are pretty good (Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig give the best performances).  The film is competently filmed.  Everyone knows what they’re doing.  It works.

I just didn’t like it.

It took me a few days to figure out though.  Generally with movies, there’s a lead character you can either relate to or just like.  It’s the hero, per say, that you want to see succeed.  He wins at life, he gets the girl (or, well you can reverse that to be gender neutral), he’s the man.

This isn’t the typical movie.  Greenberg isn’t the hero, he’s the pest that you wish you can grind under your foot again and again.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, which I am.  I realized this after seeing this movie that this was how the movie was designed.  Maybe we’re supposed to hate Greenberg, or at least the character.  He’s fearful of generally everything and hardly ever takes blame for things he does.  One of the plot points during the film involves himself and Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and what happened with their band fifteen years prior.  Greenberg didn’t want to sign with a major label and be a sellout, but sometimes that’s the way the business works.  He doesn’t take blame though for the band breaking up (which he caused because of his refusal to sign), fifteen years after the fact.

Or take Greenberg and Florence.  Obviously there’s something going on, but every time something does, Greenberg pushes her away.  Then he acts like nothing has happened.  Florence, for her part, seems to still want to do something with him, maybe out of pity, maybe to get some stability in her life, who knows.  Or, maybe Florence just likes Greenberg and wants to be with him in spite of his flaws.  The ending is left open to that point.  (On that note, the best scenes in the movie do generally involve Florence.  Greta Gerwig plays her as a quirky twenty-something who is struggling to find a job in the world after college.  She’s just like us.  She’s easily the most relate-able character in the film.)

But I think it was Greenberg that made me not like this film.  You just can’t like him.  Maybe pity with him, but not like him, or even sympathize with him.  There came a point towards the end of the film, when there’s a party going on, in which I became completely uncomfortable with watching this film.  I started to really hate it.  It was almost like that feeling when I watched Transformers 2, but that was more of a dumb, mute shock from being assaulted with lights and sounds for two plus hours (all of it trying to take itself seriously too).  This was one of those seat squirming moments that you really wish would end, but it still drags itself along, trying to get across the point that Greenberg is this guy who’s not a good guy, or he might be, but he just has issues, but nothing we can relate to.  I didn’t like him.

I didn’t like this film.  Like I said, the film is fine for what it is, but if I was supposed to not like this film, then I suppose the mission was a success.  I suppose I’ll just slap a grade on it and move along.

B-