Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Frances Ha vs. Simon Killer, two very different movies, each with sizable indie cred, about young Americans trying to make it in Paris.
PremiseThese two films about moving to Paris as a directionless young person could not take more different tones. The trailer for Frances Ha opens with Greta Gerwig asking her friend to tell her the story of “us”: a narrative in which they’re both successful doing what fulfills them creatively. This is not how things work, and the movie looks like an exploration of the ways in which their reality (or, specifically, Gerwig’s) falls short of those fantasies. Simon Killer is a movie that dispenses with cute dreams and dives headfirst into the mind of a blackmailer. Brady Corbet plays the lead role as a young man who moves to Paris to clear his head and approach French women on the street. At some point, he gets invited to a strip club and, as one does, begins dating a high-class escort who works at the bar. He convinces her to blackmail one of her clients, and things get out of hand.Advantage: Simon Killer
Modern DanceGerwig’s dream is to become “this famous modern dancer.” Do those even exist? Dancing seems to be in her blood as an actress: her character in 2011’s Damsels in Distress fantasized about starting a dance craze as a means of improving the lives of her and her friends. If Frances Ha is as good as Damsels, then she should take that as conclusive proof that she should never make a movie that does not prominently feature dance. The dancers in Simon Killer are also of the modern variety, although they use it to promote their work in the world’s oldest profession. It’s a tough call: In Frances Ha, Gerwig wants to dance because she wants to express herself and become famous through her art. In Simon Killer, Mati Diop dances as a means of supporting herself by seducing rich, sometimes married men and getting them to pay her for sex.Advantage: Simon Killer
Love in the 21st CenturyThere are at least two romantic interests for Gerwig in Frances Ha. One of them is Adam Driver, and the other one isn’t. Also, David Bowie’s “Modern Love” is the music for the trailer. Part of Gerwig’s journey of self-discovery will surely be to figure out how to balance a relationship with her dreams of becoming a famous modern dancer. Simon Killer is also about love, sort of. Corbet tells his girlfriend that he misses her early on in the trailer, then goes and gets a French girlfriend, with whom he blackmails a married man. This movie is about attempting to resolve the same confusion presented in Frances Ha through cynical manipulation and a volume-based approach to meeting people. Does that ever work? It certainly doesn’t seem to in this movie.Advantage: Frances Ha
Up-and-ComersJust as both movies are about young people trying to make it, they feature actors on the cusp of larger stardom. Both Gerwig and Corbet have had many roles in high-quality movies—Gerwig as the lead in Damsels, Greenberg, and a handful of mumblecore flicks—but they have yet to break out into full-fledged Hollywood stardom. Although Gerwig is probably farther along that road, Corbet is also a young actor of note, and this lead role is the kind that shows off an actor’s ability to play “disturbed.” Disturbed is big. Jack Nicholson made a career out of disturbed. Still, for now, at least, our money’s on Gerwig.Advantage: Frances Ha
Mid-Afternoon in ParisWhat is it about Paris? The city of Hemingway and of Toulouse-Lautrec, it is ultimate bohemian capital of the undirected and hyper-directed. If someone doesn’t quite know what they’re doing, it’s a romantic destination and a beautiful place to figure it out. Also, it’s a hub of world commerce. Gerwig and Corbet both come to Paris in the category of dreamers that need a change to push their lives down the right path. Gerwig struggles to make her dream as a dancer come true—and Paris is the place to do that—while Corbet dives headfirst into a dark world of sexual exploitation, which really he could be doing anywhere. Simon Killer paints a darker picture of Paris, which is a side of the city not usually depicted in movies about young people. After all the romance of Midnight in Paris, we’re ready to see the underbelly.Advantage: Simon Killer
DirectorNoah Baumbach has a raft of excellent comedies to his name: Kicking and Screaming, Margot at the Wedding, The Squid and the Whale. He’s proved himself time and again, and Frances Ha looks to be no exception to his trend of picking small stories that he mines beautifully for not only comedic but also dramatic potential. Simon Killer is Antonio Campos‘ second feature, after the disturbing Afterschool. We’re inclined to believe in him—he’s part of the Borderline Films collective, which brought us the haunting Martha Marcy May Marlene—but Baumbach is unquestionably established. Although Campos’ potential is alluring, the nod has to go to the proven commodity.Advantage: Frances Ha
The VerdictIt really comes down to a matter of taste. Frances Ha could be a treacly, mumbly movie about a woman “figuring it out” without dealing with real-world problems of feeding herself. Simon Killer could be a schlocky, dirty-for-the-sake-of-dirty scumfest about a rich white guy exploiting people joylessly and leaving the audience feeling dirty and, like his victims, robbed. Or they could both be great!Winner: Tie
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