318 Great Directors: Noah Baumbach

“I grew up in the heat of 70s postmodern fiction and post-Godard films, and there was this idea that what mattered was the theory or meta in art. My film is emotional rather than meta, and that’s my rebellion.”

Why This Director?: I loved Squid and the Whale, but Frances Ha hasn’t let go of my heart since I saw it.

My Last Experience Was…: Frances Ha.

What Did I Watch: Kicking and Screaming (“start from the beginning” was my default mode a lot of the time) and Margot at the Wedding

Where Does He Fit: After a brief mistake where I stumbled into the 2005 version with Will Ferrell (which I saw as a child and only remember for the coffee subplot, which was pretty amusing where the rest of it was not), I ran into the 90s version, which really earns that title for its mental associations of the man children who make up the primary ensemble and are all frankly interchangeable in how terrible they are at relating to people outside their group getting dragged like they’re being given birth to, refusing to cede an inch and bitching every time life pushes them along anyway. Their affectations, from the way they dress like they’re in a Whit Stillman movie despite some low-key money issues anyway, really have swallowed up their actual personalities, but if it leads to them basically becoming the male edition of Mean Girls then who cares? The Criterion Collection’s cover for the film is pitch perfect, with the ridiculousness of the world that these men are stuck in getting quoted all over something green and blank. The brainy small talk that we thrive on when it is done right in Tarantino explodes onto the scene, and the best part is that it’s a near guarantee that this was being made before Pulp Fiction blew up.

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Margot at the Wedding, meanwhile, seemed a lot less well-liked than some of the other Baumbach’s yet received a vote in Fandor’s poll for the greatest cinematography of all time, which is enough to make me curious and seek it out…well, that and Nicole Kidman playing a short story writer with a son who visits her estranged sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on the eve of her wedding. I became very torn about that one vote very quickly, as this movie seems to be more of a feat of editing than cinematography in my book. It all starts to trail off when it should be sharpening, and the emotional crises were as close as I could get to understanding the people who bitch about his focus on mean white people when he normally does it so well. Still, I had a theory that his work followed a pattern of “great film followed by two okay ones, rinse and repeat” so I don’t mind the relative disappointment of this, as there’s still enough gems here to justify possibly even a second viewing.

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Most Valuable Asset: Linklater, but meaner (and I guess less consistent).
Most Excited For: The De Palma documentary, honestly.

Coming Up Next: Even bigger cynic Todd Solondz.

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