Film Review: Frances Ferguson (dir by Bob Byington)


Frances Ferguson takes place in a town in Nebraska.  As the film’s narrator (Nick Offerman) explains it, it’s a town where everyone knows everyone else.  It’s a town where your mechanic knows your bartender and no one can really keep anything a secret for too long.  For instance, it’s the type of town where there’s no way that a substitute teacher in her mid-20s is going to be able to get away with having an affair with a 16 year-old student.

The teacher in question is named Frances Ferguson (Kaley Wheeless).  Frances wanders through her days in an apathetic haze.  When she steps outside of her house, she sees her useless husband (Keith Poulson) masturbating in the car.  When she spends time with her mother (Jennifer Prediger), she is criticized for every little thing.  On the rare days when she gets called to teach, the students look down on her and Frances thinks about how little she knows about any of the subjects on which she’s giving instruction.  Frances goes through her day holding back her emotions.  She only screams on the inside and, when she does, only she and the viewing audience can hear.

Things start to look up when Frances teaches a biology class and notices a handsome but vacuous student named Jake (Jake French).  When she finds out that Jake has been given detention, Frances volunteers to supervise him.  When Frances flirts with him and the scene cuts way, the narrator asks us, “Was this a crime?”

(Yes, it was.)

Frances and Jake have a short-lived affair, though it doesn’t seem to be particularly passionate.  If anything, Jake seems to be even more blase about it than Frances.  Wearing her old cheerleader uniform, Frances meets Jake in a laundromat.  “I’d never date a cheerleader,” Jake tells her.  We, the viewers, notice that there are other people in the laundromat.  Does Frances want to get caught?

Get caught, she does.  “This is the last time we see Jake,” the narrators tells us as Jake fades away.  Frances, meanwhile, sits in court.  Her mother comes to the trial and tells her that her clothes make her look fat.  Frances is convicted and sent to prison.  Her mom brings her a chocolate cupcake for her birthday.  Frances announces that she’s allergic to chocolate before taking a big bite and then pretending to die.  “Get off that dirty floor!” her mother orders her.

You may getting the impression that Frances Ferguson is a strange film and I supposed it is.  It’s a comedy but it’s an extremely deadpan comedy, with most of the humor coming from Frances’s seeming apathy to ever single thing that happens to her.  It’s not that Frances doesn’t have feelings or emotions.  We hear her inner scream enough times to know that she’s not as apathetic as she seems.  It’s just that Frances is so consumed with small town ennui that she realizes it’s pointless to react one way or the other.  Life is what it is and it continues regardless of how annoying it may all be.  Whether she screams on the inside or on the outside, she’ll still have to wake up every morning in the same situation.  One day, Frances Ferguson was a teacher.  The next day, she was a prisoner.  And the day after that, she was on parole and a minor celebrity.  (“You’re that teacher!” is a phrase that she continually hears.)  What happens, happens.

Here’s the thing …. though it may not sound like it from my description of the plot, Frances Ferguson is an incredibly funny film.  A lot of that is due to Nick Offerman’s performance as the snarky narrator.  (The narrator has a tendency to wander off topic.)  A lot of that has to do with the performance of Kaley Wheeless, who perfectly communicates Frances’s suppressed irritation.  Over the course of the film, Frances has to deal with a lot of people who, if not for her one mistake, she would have otherwise never had to deal with.  Some of them get on her nerves and some of them — well, two of them — provide her with some comfort.  I loved David Krumholtz’s performance as a beleagured but optimistic group leader.  Martin Starr also gets a nice bit at the end, though it would be too much of spoiler to say anything else about his role.  I also enjoyed the performances of Jack Marshall and Yoko Lawing, as the two detectives who investigate the charges against Frances and who explain that, because of TV cop shows, they can no longer get away with playing good cop/bad cop.

Frances Ferguson is good film.  It’s also a short one, clocking in at just 74 minutes.  To be honest, it’s the perfect running time for the story that this film tells.  We follow Frances’s story for just as long as we need to.  Frances Ferguson is on Prime so check it out.

By the way, here are the Satellite Award Nominations…


In even more Oscar season news, the International Press Association announced their nominations for the Satellite Awards yesterday.  Les Miserables led with 10 nominations.

If you’re like most people who don’t obsess over film awards then chances are that you’ve never heard of the International Press Association.  And that’s okay.  The main thing to know is that it’s Oscar season and that means that everyone’s giving out an award.  The Satellites are a lot like the Golden Globes, just with less credibility.  As far as serving as a precursor is concerned, a Satellite win can help a film maintain momentum but a loss doesn’t really hurt.

That said, for the past few years, I’ve always ended up agreeing more with the Satellite Nominations than with either the Oscars or the Golden Globes.  For instance, back in 2010, the Satellites nominated Noomi Rapace for her performance in the original (and the best) version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

BEST PICTURE
“Argo”
“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
“Life Of Pi”
“Lincoln”
“Les Misérables”
“Moonrise Kingdom”
“The Sessions”
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Skyfall”
“Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST DIRECTOR
Ben Affleck, “Argo”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Kim Ki-duk, “Pieta“
Ben Lewin, “The Sessions”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ACTRESS
Laura Birn, “Purge”
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Emilie Dequenne, “Our Children”
Keira Knightley, “Anna Karenina”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Laura Linney, “Hyde Park On Hudson”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Omar Sy, “The Intouchables”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Samantha Barks, “Les Miserables“
Judi Dench, “Skyfall”
Helene Florent, “Café De Flore”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
John Goodman, “Flight”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Eddie Redmayne, “Les Misérables”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
John Gatins, “Flight”
Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, “The Intouchables”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”
Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”
Kim Ki-duk, “Pieta”
Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Tom Stoppard, “Anna Karenina”
Chris Terrio, “Argo”
David Magee, “Life Of Pi”
Tony Kushner, “Lincoln”
Ben Lewin, “The Sessions”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“Amour” (Austria)
“Beyond The Hills” (Romania)
“Caesar Must Die” (Italy)
“The Intouchables” (France)
“Kon-Tiki” (Norway)
“Our Children” (Belgium)
“Pieta” (South Korea)
“A Royal Affair” (Denmark)
“War Witch” (Canada)

BEST ANIMATED OR MIXED-MEDIA FILM
“Brave”
“Frankenweenie”
“Ice Age 4: Continental Drift”
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”
“Paranorman”
“Rise Of The Guardians”
“Wreck-It Ralph”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”
“The Central Park Five”
“Chasing Ice”
“The Gatekeepers”
“Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present”
“The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”
“Searching For Sugar Man”
“West Of Memphis”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Seamus McGarvey, “Anna Karenina”
Ben Richardson, “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
Claudio Miranda, “Life Of Pi”
Janusz Kaminski, “Lincoln”
Mihai Malaimare, Jr., “The Master”
Roger Deakins, “Skyfall”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Sarah Greenwood, Niall Moroney, Thomas Brown, Nick Gottschalk and Tom Still, “Anna Karenina”
Nathan Crowley, Kevin Kavanaugh, James Hambidge and Naaman Marshall, “The Dark Knight Rises”
Rick Carter, Curt Beech, David Crank and Leslie McDonald, “Lincoln”
David Crank and Jack Fisk, “The Master”
Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robinson, “Les Misérables”
Niels Sejer, “A Royal Affair”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Jacqueline Durran, “Anna Karenina”
Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud, “Cloud Atlas”
Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux, “Farewell, My Queen”
Paco Delgado, “Les Misérables”
Manon Rasmussen, “A Royal Affair”
Colleen Atwood, “Snow White And The Huntsman”

BEST FILM EDITING
Alexander Berner, “Cloud Atlas”
Jeremiah O’Driscoll, “Flight”
Chris Dickens, “Les Misérables”
Lisa Bromwell, “The Sessions”
Jay Cassidy, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Dylan Tichenor, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Dario Marianelli, “Anna Karenina”
Alexandre Desplat, “Argo”
Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
John Williams, “Lincoln”
Jonny Greenwood, “The Master”
Thomas Newman, “Skyfall”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Learn Me Right,” “Brave”
“Fire In The Blood/Snake Song” “Lawless”
“Love Always Comes As A Surprise,” “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”
“Suddenly,” “Les Misérables”
“Still Alive,” “Paul Williams: Still Alive”
“Skyfall,” “Skyfall”

BEST SOUND (EDITING AND MIXING)
“Flight”
“Les Misérables”
“Snow White And The Huntsman”
“Kon-Tiki”
“Life Of Pi”
“Prometheus”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
“Cloud Atlas”
“The Dark Knight Rises”
“Flight”
“Life Of Pi”
“Prometheus”
“Skyfall”