Frances Ha, on its surface, is one of those great coming-of-age stories, well-directed, well-acted with a structurally sound plot. I enjoyed the more unique take on filmmaking that was unique and experimental in it’s totally frill-less, character-driven way. For these many reasons, I expected to truly love Frances Ha. Instead, I found myself being both bored and irritated at several points. It’s a good movie, but it’s not something I particularly enjoyed.
There are a number of reasons for this, but one major one: the unrealistic, quirky hipster at the centre of the film. I don’t need to like a protagonist in order to like a movie. I’ve seen plenty where I’ve hated them but still appreciated their role in the film. In Frances Ha, even with good acting by Greta Gerwig, I could not muster a single strong emotion about her character (utterly based on characterization) other than mild irritation. Frances is flawed, like many good characters are, but not in a way that makes her interesting, captivating or someone you can root for. Neither are her flaws big enough for her to become an antihero. What’s worse is that her characterization renders her almost fully unrealistic, borne out of the minds of hipster/artist writers who believe their own hype and quirkiness. Many of the other characters are more likeable but are no more realistic and no less borne out of the hipster collective. The fact that the film takes itself so seriously does nothing to allay the irritation at these characters.
That’s not to take away from the film’s many triumphs. Even while disliking/not feeling anything for her character, I truly feel like Greta Gerwig produced a really nice performance here. Many of the other characters also gave good performances alongside her. I have already mentioned that I appreciated the filmmaking style employed, even if it came off every now and then in much the same way the film’s characters did. Finally, the actual storyline, minus the cutesiness, was actually well-plotted and highly relevant to our times. As someone within that age range of the main characters, I appreciate the take on the struggles of this period and its own era of discovery and finding out oneself.
Frances Ha, ultimately, is a good movie, but too far up its own self and too full of itself to fully enjoy as it should be. It’s gotten rave reviews, I can see why, and I’m glad I watched it, but I will definitely not be watching it again.
When you watch great movies, often you feel elation, a sense of wanting to dissect it even more to discover just why it was so great. Then there are times when you watch great movies where you are absolutely floored and gutted at the end of it. You sit there at the end, unwilling to move or to really dissect anything about the movie except to remember how the past 2 hours (2.5 in this case) made you feel. The movie transcends the act of filmmaking and enters your heart and soul in a beautiful way that makes you remember why you love movies. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of those movies.
While admittedly a huge fan of the franchise, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire went above and beyond my expectations.
As a book to movie adaptation, it proved to be particularly truthful of the book. Many of my favourite lines and scenes were portrayed on the big screen, and not in a way that felt like a simple collage of scenes, but in a way that actually worked as a plotted movie. Most importantly, it did so while still maintaining the integrity and essence of the messaging in the source material.
Francis Lawrence did an incredible job directing this movie. It was both visually stunning and emotionally charged in a way that few blockbusters are able to accomplish. His obvious grasp and love of the source material shone through.
Kudos also have to be given to the set and costume designers for their part in creating that world. In particular, Trish Summerville’s work truly contributed to the greatness of the film in a way that I feel like few costume designers can.
Jennifer Lawrence even surpassed my already sky-high opinion of her as an actress. She took my breath away every scene. Her ability to fully embody Katniss with grace, humour, vulnerability, distrust, compassion, bravery is a testament to her greatness as an actress. Quite frankly, Jennifer Lawrence is the only actress I know who can pull of the character of Katniss in a way that is even better than what most people could have expected.
Josh Hutcherson, decent in the first movie, finally shines through, getting to the heart of why Peeta is such a beloved character. He handily portrays Peeta’s bravery and strength as a counterpoint to Katniss’ own bravery and strength.
Elizabeth Banks is once again brilliant as Effie Trinket. She is utterly compelling, heartwarming, funny. Effie is never a caricature in her hands. Sure, Effie brings the most comic relief in the movie but Effie is multi-dimensional. She’s a Capitol citizen but she’s compassionate. She wants to follow the rules but she can also see injustice and, in her own way, tries to fight against it.
Jena Malone is an absolute show-stopper as Johanna Mason. Like Jennifer Lawrence, Jena takes one of my favourite characters in the book and far surpasses any expectations I may have had. She was a highlight in every scene she is in. The beauty of her performance is in her ability to maintain this anger, aggression and violence inherent in the character and yet still making her someone you believe should be an ally. She does so through intently crafting the complexity of her character in relation to what she has been through.
Sam Claflin is also a great addition to the cast, finely navigating the line between sleaze and charm exactly as Finnick would have. More importantly, I feel like Sam did an excellent job of providing enough to bridge Finnick between these movies and the growth in his character in the Mockingjay movies.
Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones prove their excellence in these roles which they could generally phone in. Instead, they all show their commitment to the source material and to their incredibly important roles. These movies would not work as well without their incredible work.
Finally, I feel like I should give a shout out to Nina Jacobson, who is everywhere in this franchise and I feel gets too little love from the fans. Other than Suzanne Collins, Jacobson has been the only one at the heart of this franchise from near the beginning and it is her commitment, loyalty to Suzanne and to the books, and leadership in ensuring a franchise that is deeper than any other young-adult franchise around that has made this movie and this franchise so great. When the fandom found out that Gary Ross was leaving, the only solace I took was that Nina Jacobson would find the absolute right person for the job. I was right – Francis Lawrence could not have been a better pick. As a producer, she may reap the financial benefits of this great franchise, but she has also steadily ensured that this franchise goes above and beyond, every single time.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is both a visually stunning and emotionally-charged film that also features career-best performances from its already incredible cast. As a book adaptation, it is highly truthful and cognizant of its source material. As a movie on its own right, it is thrilling, gripping and fantastically written and plotted. There is very little to find fault in with this movie – and many kudos should be given to it for successfully navigating that murky terrain between making a blockbuster and still telling a dark, gritty story. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a stunning achievement of film-making and adaptation of book material. It is one of my favourite movies of all time.