Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach, Gerta Gerwig
Starring: Gerta Gerwig
Synopsis is here:
As a so called film fan; I don’t think I should say this, but Frances Ha is my first Noah Baumbach movie. I’ve wanted to dig into his filmography in the past but I simply haven’t found time to investigate yet another director who’s assesses the prickly lives of privileged middle class America. You must believe me on this, as for some reason or another, I find myself very attracted to this sub genre.
I found myself thinking about how crafty Frances Ha actually is in its execution. Like the works of Whit Stillman, Sophia Coppola, Lena Dunham and of course the mumblecore movement, Frances Ha is a film that delves into the habits of people that we honestly believe have little to worry about. An awkward and self involved twenty-something struggling to sustain a bohemian lifestyle within New York City. Frances comes from a decent family, is college educated and living in what is considered one of the greatest cities. Living in a state of arrested development with her best friend Sophie, Frances is quite happy with this idle way of life until of course, Sophie finds love.
Unlike Whit Stillman’s annoyingly condescending Damsels in Distress (also starring Gerwig), Frances draws us in because she thinks she knows it all. She pretends to those who listen and when she’s found out (quickly) she still holds enough charm to want you to just give her a hug. She balances precariously between irritatingly annoying and that best friend who never grew up but was always fun to be around. To some she may grate for the 90 minutes, but I loved Frances happy go lucky charm. It’s hard not to feel jealous of her care free spirit, although you want to shake her for not “growing up”.
This said, why should she grow up? Baumbach’s film wryly highlights the economic strain that is now beginning to press the moderately middle class as much as the poor. Frances may be scatty, but what we realise from her interactions with the people around her, even working hard in her creative outlet wouldn’t help things. Frances Ha is more of a character study than a political indictment, but knowing that Frances is coming of age defiantly in front of the sour faces of people that have very little to worry about, has a certain charm about it.
A playful homage to the French New Wave, Woody Allen’s Manhattan and the current America lo fi independents, Frances Ha’s look and feel (along with its casting) make sure it’s not as slick as Joe Swanberg’s sweet but knowing Drinking Buddies but holds a warmth and earnestly about its characters that many female lead movies sorely lack. Romance is hinted at but isn’t the be all and end all of Frances life. She’s just as gawky as the boys and while men come in and out of the frame of the story, they do not define the tale.
From a narrative standpoint, I fear those who need a more solid structure may be driven mad by Baumbach’s wandering plot. However France Ha is rich in other ways, such Sam Levy’s gorgeous black and white cinematography, which feels like the only way you could present a life like Miss Halladay. Meanwhile Gerwig performance improves upon her Hannah takes the stairs persona, giving us a much more rounded character from those we’ve seen from her before.
Frances not easy to like but has a persistence in her character that bites at the ankles like a terrier. This is a film fuelled on its distinctive sense of humour, its deceptively optimistic tone and a lead performance which has energy in spades. Frances Ha may be monochrome in conception, but like the lead character, it’s full of colour.