Frances Ha filmmaker Noah Baumbach and star/co-writer Greta Gerwig on hipsters and Brooklyn.
In Frances Ha, a splendidly modest black-and-white film directed by Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig (who is also the film’s co-writer) stars as Frances, 27, an idiosyncratic, free-spirited aspiring modern dancer living in Brooklyn. Her world turns upside down when her roommate and BFF, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), meets a fella and decides to move out. Sophie then moves into another Brooklyn pad with two young guys, Lev (Girls’ Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen), as she tries to find some direction in her life.
The film is one of the best so far this year—a romantic meditation on life as a directionless millennial suffering for her art in New York City. Or, the plight of the hipster.
The Daily Beast sat down with real-life couple Baumbach and Gerwig, who had also collaborated on 2010’s Greenberg, to discuss hipsterdom.
Greta Gerwig: I lived in East Williamsburg, but like three or four stops in on the L, so I never lived in the heart of Williamsburg or Greenpoint. I don’t really identify as a hipster, but I guess that’s one of the defining traits of hipsters—that nobody identifies themselves as hipsters. I talked about this with my friends. I’m from Sacramento, and I’ve talked about this with people who aren’t from a big city that’s “cool”—I call them “high-confidence cities” versus “low-confidence cities.” High-confidence cities are like Chicago, Portland, San Francisco. Low-confidence cities are like Knoxville, Sacramento, Detroit. Those are cities that don’t feel quite as great about themselves. If I didn’t know the connections of people being so mean about Williamsburg or mean about hipsters, if I was coming from Sacramento to New York and found this neighborhood where there was a bunch of people who wanted to be artists and liked good books and music and dressed cool and liked nice coffee, I’d be like, holy shit, I’ve found my home. It’s only because there are all these bad connotations with it that people get nasty about it. But I think hipsters are great. At the heart of it, they care about music and care about art, and a lot of them are trying to be artists. If I didn’t know that I was supposed to hate Williamsburg, I would love it.
Noah Baumbach: An interesting thing happened while we were shooting Frances with Adam [Driver], Greta, and Mike Zegen, who plays Benji. We had dressed them in outfits that felt right for the anthropology of the characters at this time. There’s this sequence where they’re saying goodbye to some guests—some girls—who are leaving. The girls leave, and the three of them turn back into the apartment and walk together and there’s this moment of, where does Greta fit in this picture now? But visually when we did it, in black and white, it looks so French to me—like Band of Outsiders or some Godard movie. Adam had a hat on and a cardigan, Benji had this tie, and Greta has this dress. It was totally unintended to feel so French but I thought it was kind of interesting that this kind of wardrobe and these sort of styles have entered the culture. It’s like old and new, and it’s so now part of how people are dressing now. I kind of admire in a way how every style, every era, high-low culture—it’s all embraced as one thing. It’s problematic in some areas, but I’m also very impressed by that. When I was growing up, there definitely was not [a democraticness] among my friends and me, and we were in the ’80s, but we were all looking back at the ’70s and resisting the ’80s. I feel like there’s less of that now, and there’s more of everything’s cool. I kind of like that.
Greta Gerwig: I think the difference is when I’ve talked to people who remember New York in the ’70s and remember what SoHo used to be like—that part of being an artist in New York. Even now, Williamsburg is so wildly expensive. I read something about how Kathryn Bigelow was really good friends with this person and what they did was rented lofts and fixed them up, and then would go rent another left and rented the one they fixed up for more money, and that’s how they made money in downtown New York in the ’70s when they were both trying to be artists. I feel like because things are so stratospherically expensive right now that that’s less possible. But having a community that people think is obnoxious is a fine New York tradition.