It seems so obvious. “Frances Ha.” “Funny Ha Ha.” Coincidence? We think not. But wait… One is about an awkward 20-something delaying adulthood, while her romantic planets fail to get in line. The other is … well, yeah, pretty much about the same thing. Except that one rocketed to obscurity in 2002, and the other seems poised, based on reviewers more or less genuflecting since its U.S. premiere at Telluride last fall, to become an indie hit of major (albeit relative) proportions.
Plenty of people have gotten the connection. Armond White, who has never made much of a secret about his disdain for “Frances” director Noah Baumbach, flat out said that the film was named after Andrew Bujalski’s “Funny Ha Ha,” the first alleged “mumblecore” feature (an appellation no one involved in the so-called “movement” has ever agreed to acknowledge) and calling Baumbach’s star and co-writer Greta Gerwig the movement’s “icon” (though she never worked with Bujalski, the movement’s George Washington, which was a different movie altogether). What does Bujalski think?
“I like ‘Frances Ha’ a lot!” he emailed. “And I think it’s pretty sui generis … I’d be honored to have my movie on a list of its forebears, but I suspect it’s more like a very distant cousin, many times removed …”
That said, he said, “it did blow my mind for a moment” — in “Greenberg,” Baumbach’s previous movie starring Gerwig — “when Greta’s character tells an anecdote about her ‘friend Marnie’ & I wondered if Noah had pulled the name Marnie from my movie. Not that I invented the name … Nor for that matter, did Hitchcock, though I think we can credit him ownership of it in the cinematic sphere …”)
The old Tomatometer is giving “Frances” a 90, prior to its opening Friday when the bulk of reviews come out (including this critic’s, in the Wall Street Journal). It must be noted that those who’ve come out against the film, Baumbach’s seventh feature, have sounded sour, petulant and riddled with what seems an almost arthritic posture regarding Baumbach, his previous films, Gerwig and the couple’s whole happy dance. Sometimes, maybe in this case particularly, amnesia can be a critic’s best tool.