Frances Ha and The Big Picture

One way in which I enjoy reckoning with film history is through film podcasts.

There are a range of film related podcasts for free public consumption with my favourites stemming from the Ringer, Bill Simmons’ podcast and media company, most notably The Rewatchables and The Big Picture.

The Big Picture, is a great podcast for anyone interested in the film and entertainment industry as it exists today. Each week (often twice a week), hosts Sean and Amanda break down the latest releases, highlight trends and events worth knowing about, and talk about their favourite movies, actors, directors and producers.

Often, they will use a current release as a ‘news peg’, allowing them to discuss the new release and then place it in the context of that director’s or actor’s broader body of work. Here, you can learn a lot about film history and gain an understanding of the film canon, while grounding your movie experience firmly in the contemporary film eco-system.

A good example of this was when The Big Picture covered writer/director Noah Baumbach’s 2019 Marriage Story, a warm and emotionally mature look at a couple navigating divorce. The podcast featured a lengthy and engaging conversation dissecting Marriage Story, before going on to rank and discuss Baumbach’s previous works, none of which I had seen.

From this episode, I was provided with a ready-made list of films to go back and watch. Many were available on streaming services I already subscribe to, others I have been able to rent for less than five dollars. My favourite, undoubtedly, is Frances Ha, Baumbach’s 2012 film co-written with its leading actress and formidable director in her own right, Greta Gerwig.

The film portrays a late twenties woman trying to make her way in the New York City of the 2010s. She’s somewhat down on her luck, struggling to pay rent and hold down secure employment – a familiar tale. What Baumbach and Gerwig capture perfectly is the transience of life for a young person in New York City (I studied there for a year so am obviously an authority on all things to do with the place). People form part of your close social circle for a few months or even weeks and then disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Your friendships are only as good as your last catch-up. It is profoundly isolating and often dispiriting, saved only by the constant possibility that in a city of over 8 million people, there is really no limit on the people you can meet.

Gerwig’s Frances bounces aimlessly from apartment to apartment as her friends from college begin to ‘get their lives together,’ and embrace a yuppie culture that looks down its nose at her free-spirited and erratic ways. The quiet disdain with which they treat her at dinner parties filled with complaints about the tedium of travel and stress of high-powered and even higher-paying jobs is familiar to many young people who mix in social circles that include that very specific kind of driven young person who takes enormous pride in how busy, exhausted and, most importantly, important they are. Frances loses a friend to this lifestyle but a chance reunion proves that some friendships transcend pretty much everything else.

For me, The Big Picture was a gateway into Baumbach’s work, work that, if you’ll pardon the pun, so eloquently helps you to see the bigger picture: the importance of life’s small moments.

Tagged in movies, podcast, What messes with your head