Some films hold a mirror. They make us gasp out loud in darkened movie theaters when we hear our own dialect or see our own facial ticks. A few years ago, I was at the movies in Bronxville with my friends watching “Shopgirl.” And something about it so summed up the aimlessness of someone I loved so much that it physically hurt. To my friends’ embarrassment, I couldn’t stop (loudly) crying for the duration of the film.
"Hannah Takes The Stairs," directed by Joe Swanberg, made its US debut at SXSW 2007 and premiered in the UK this year. What a strange phenomenon, to watch this film in the UK, surrounded by the kind of uptight, serious British men who hang out at the Barbican cinema on a Sunday afternoon. This film, more than any I’ve seen, honestly reflects my American generation: the way we speak, the way we relate to each other. Those words! I’ve said those words. Those terrible break-up scenes and awkward party moments— the way the characters react is informed by the same specific cultural references that have shaped my habits and those of the people I love.
The film is really a simple thing: Hannah, played by the beautiful Gerta Gerwig, is a recent college grad (like us), who works a mindless job in TV production (like all of our friends). She doesn’t know what she wants, she doesn’t know her passions, and because of this, she doesn’t know who she wants to be with. She aches with a lack of determination, acting impulsively in deciding to break up with her boyfriend and embark on new relationships with her two co-workers.
This is not high art. Dialogue is entirely improvised, the film shot cheaply on digital. The cast is composed of people you probably would meet at any dive bar in the friendly, hip part of any American city. But it’s the way our generation is so honestly captured that makes this film valuable— more as a document than an artwork. If we may collectively choose one movie to tell us who we were in our early twenties, this would be it.