The summer movie season heats up with two great performances in two very solid indies. Greta Gerwig in ‘Frances Ha’ and Matthew McConaughey in “Mud’. Finally, something to cheer about in a summer movie season lacking in ambitious thought.
In Noah Baumbach’s ‘Frances Ha” Greta Gerwig gives a performance that will surely be remembered by critics at years end. She’s so damn good as Frances, a 27 year old yuppie New York girl looking to find herself and refusing to let go of her dream as a professional dancer. This is a far cry from the “Sex And The City” females and more like the ones portrayed in Lena Dunham’s brilliant HBO series “Girls”. In fact, comparisons will be made just by the casting of “Girls” regular Adam Driver. It’s more than just that. Just like Dunham’s show, Frances Ha is the about the coming of age of women that have a hard time embarking in adulthood and just like that series’ best episodes there is an episodic uncomfortableness to Frances’ every day situations. At times you just cringe at the situations she puts herself in.
Gerwig -with her long wavy blonde hair and a clumsy posture- is spectacular in more ways than one. She brings realness to a character that could have easily delved deep into caricature. It doesn’t happen here. Instead Baumbach, in his best film since “The Squid And The Whale”, launches the career of a new star. Gerwig’s gestures, movements, facial expressions are spot on and make you fall for Frances – flaws and all. Her life is a confusing mess, while her best friend/roommate finds love and moves out. She is down on cash, single, awkward and in search of herself. She acts younger than her age, takes things one day at a time and doesn’t think much about the future. At some point living this way catches up to you. It caught up to me in my life and it caught up to many other late twenty somethings that I knew of. Baumbach’s character study doesn’t cozy up to any conventions. He speaks the truth for my generation and creates a sort of wake up call. Shot in beautiful black and white he proves that “The Squid And The Whale” was no fluke. With all that being said “Frances Ha” is the Greta Gerwig show, Oscar pay attention.
In Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” Matthew McConaughey holds your attention every time he’s on screen. As an island outlaw hiding from the police, McConaughey’s Mud is a mysterious drifter with more than a few secrets to hide. Not fair revealing anything else about the plot but Nichols’ film is a dark coming of age movie seen through the eyes of two 14 year old Arkansas boys. Their fascination for Mud is just as strong as ours and we see the film through the eyes of teenage boys just beginning to learn about life’s harsh truths. Nichols tells the story in a more straightforward fashion than he did in his highly acclaimed 2011 film “Take Shelter”. All the better for it,. The screenplay makes Nichols not need as much stylistic ambition, instead the director opts to just tell the story. Good call. McConaughey, 44, only recently hit his stride as an actor. If you saw him in last year’s triumphant trifecta “Bernie”, “Magic Mike” and “Killer Joe” or 2011’s underseen, underrated “The Lincoln Lawyer” you know exactly how good of an actor he can be. Over the years his pretty boy looks have prevented him from ever being taken seriously as an actor. That’s too bad because here is an actor that is currently at his prime and should be taken very seriously. He plays with the audience’s heads in “Mud” and demands us to pay attention to his every move. It’s a performance that brilliantly captures a man lost in an ocean of thought and not letting anyone into his dark world filled with murderous tendencies and undying love. It’s a great performance that will be remembered come awards time and might only be overshadowed by an upcoming performance of his later on this year in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf Of Wall Street”.