Frances Ha Directed by: Noah Baumbach Written by: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig (screenplay) Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper and Adam Driver
Frances Ha may be the most uplifting film that Noah Baumbach has made, but with a filmography mostly defined by feuding families and the psychologically destructive aftermath, that doesn’t seem like a very difficult feat to overcome. It is, though. What makes Frances Ha brilliant is that, despite the relentless, elliptical French New Wave editing and structure, it feels effortlessly modern and also retains a distinct sense of melancholy.
Baumbach’s decision to shoot in black and white (and a detour to France midway through) makes the influence of Godard and Truffaut even more confrontational. It is still very much a movie of its time, though, with its frank if jittery examinations of female sexuality and friendship and its pleasingly liberated conclusion.
This Is 40 Directed by: Judd Apatow Written by: Judd Apatow (screenplay) Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow
Paul Rudd is the only main character in Judd Apatow’s latest movie who isn’t part of the comedy auteur’s actual nuclear family. The wife (Leslie Mann) and two children (Maude and Iris Apatow) are basically playing out better-written scenarios of their lives with a cuter dad.
This makes everything about This Is 40 feel both a little weirder and a little more alive; it’s like making your family relive an awkward Christmas on camera. Apatow is a keen observer of white upper middle class life, though his considerable success as writer, director and producer over the past few years has made his class standing considerably higher than that. This movie is his best since his other movie with 40 in the title, albeit much more pensive and mature.
Tiny Furniture Directed by: Lena Dunham Written by: Lena Dunham (screenplay) Starring: Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Grace Dunham and Laurie Simmons
Lena Dunham is an expert when it comes to enhancing lives that would normally be lived in miniature. In her excellent feature debut, Tiny Furniture, Dunham magnifies the life of Aura, a recent college graduate who moves back home and seems stuck in neutral. In addition to writing and directing this film, Lena also plays the title character and has her actual mother and sister star as fictional versions of her mother and sister. Tiny Furniture is the definition of an independent film, and its formal sophistication and biting wit show up lesser attempts like Paranormal Activity.
Dunham landed a gig on HBO with the Judd Apatow-produced Girls in part because of Tiny Furniture. The premise of that show is largely the same as this debut film on a larger scale. Dunham plays a young woman struggling professionally, financially and sexually. She does this quite well, reciting her own dialogue with an off-beat delivery that is a hybrid of a mumblecore character and actual human being.
Thankfully, Dunham also knows how to compose a shot as well as a sentence. Though it’s clear that Tiny Furniture was made on a bare bones budget (some of the side characters are the wrong kind of awkward on camera), it is a very aesthetically pleasing film to look at. This is mostly because the upper class New York lifestyle that Aura’s mother (Laurie Simmons) and sister (Grace Dunham) inhabit is posh to begin with.