IFF Boston 2013: A Black & White Doubleheader of Much Ado About Nothing & Frances Ha

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U.S. Release DateJune 7th, 2013

On my last day at the festival, I had the pleasure of catching not one, but two great films. First up is Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, which marks probably the strangest film-to-film transition for a director in the history of cinema. Last year, Whedon wrote and directed the mega-blockbuster smash The Avengers and chose to follow it up with this low-budget modern re-telling of a Shakespeare work that he shot in twelve days at his home. Now Whedon has long-been known for his television work, creating shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and my fav Firefly, and has amassed an incredibly large fan-base in the process. This fact certainly showed upon my arrival for the screening of his latest as I quite possibly endured the longest line in the history of cinema. Yes, longer than any midnight blockbuster showing I’ve been to. This is the power of the Whedon merging himself with ‘The Bard’, and it’s safe to say that the film as a whole is certainly a success.

After ten minutes or so of getting accustomed to the Shakespeare dialogue (no matter how prepared you make yourself it can still prove to be elusive), I found myself in awe of the ease of Whedon’s adaptation. He not only seamlessly transported the tale to a modern-day setting, but amassed a cast (most having worked with Whedon previously) of which every member was game. Most notable are leads Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Beatrice and Benedick respectively. They have an incredibly goofy yet endearing chemistry as the lovers tricked by their families into expressing their feelings for one another. Denisof and Acker are both game for the Shakespeare dialect as well as the hilarious comedic set-ups, most notably in dueling sequences in which they eavesdrop on their family members conversing about fabricated feelings the other may have for them. Clark Gregg is also wonderfully cast as Leonato, and Fran Kranz (who I met and shook his hand!) is endearing as the starry-eyed Claudio who only has eyes for Hero. That is to say nothing of the hilarious scene-stealing turn by Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, the modern-day constable who exposes the evil plot hatched by Don John. He plays the role as a buffoon who thinks he’s capable of much more than he actually is. In another sense, he makes an ‘ass’ of himself (you’ll get it when you see it!).

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An interesting thing to note about this adaptation is that Whedon forgoes his own trademark dialogue, which has certainly been a major reason he has amassed such a following. In its stead, he uses many actors from his own stable as well as some comedically visual tricks to make his mark, and it completely works. Has Shakespeare ever be this fun? I wager to bet against it.

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U.S. Release Date: May 17th, 2013

Next up is the latest film from Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha, which in my opinion gives us the best performance of the year to date from Greta Gerwig as the title character. Frances is a type of man-child, although I suppose in this case its woman-child? She’s a free spirited apprentice for a dance company, or as pal Benji (a charming Michael Zegen) calls her, ‘undateable!’ She is inseparable from her roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) until Sophie decides its time for her to move out, causing Frances to roam the streets of New York with her amazing gift of un-provoked optimism. She doesn’t want to grow up, but soon enough she fears she’ll have to. Moving from apartment to apartment and in and out of the lives of a vast array of friends and acquaintances, Frances doesn’t exactly know where she stands in the world but doesn’t seem all that interested in figuring it out either.

The charm of Greta Gerwig’s performance as Frances lies in her ability to lighten any situation that would normally be portrayed under a much darker, somber tone. Gerwig is hilarious and heartbreaking at the same precise moments, which makes us not only like Frances but also allows us to see some of ourselves in her. Who hasn’t wondered where they’re going in this world, and then just decided to say ‘fuck it’, who cares? I know I’m personally guilty of this on numerous occasions, growing weary and concerned with what the next step in my life is, yet still maintaining a weird sense of optimism that no matter what I may go through, I’ll come out on the other side all right. Frances Ha does not sugarcoat anything about the trials and tribulations of this twenty-something New Yorker, but rather shows these trying times through the lens of a woman who just wants to have a good time and not get left behind by her friends as they fall in love and grow up.

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The script for Frances Ha was co-written with Baumbach by Gerwig herself and she has certainly had an impact on Baumbach’s normally more somber tone. As the man behind one of my very favorite films The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach has always been concerned with the tribulations of the young New Yorker, but always in a more depressing landscape. Gerwig clearly took Baumbach’s normal landscape and upset it with a quirky dreamer who just wants to have a good time with life. It may just be the only thing keeping Frances sane after all. As the film draws to a close and we are treated with the clever meaning behind the title of the film, Frances is left in a place of contentment. She’s come a long way and although her best bud Sophie may not sleep in the same bed with her anymore, we’re teased with the notion that perhaps Frances is growing up, ever so slightly. Perhaps Frances’ New York deserves to be a landscape of contrasting blacks and whites (the colors!), because Frances herself will always be a little grey. She won’t always have an easy go-to place to live in this New York, nor a friend that she can count on to be there 24/7, but she really doesn’t need to. She has herself, Frances Ha, and that’s enough entertainment for anyone.

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