Watching Frances Ha reminded me of two things. First of all, I really like both director Noah Baumbach and actress Greta Gerwig, despite not seeing much of what they’ve done (both were involved in the very good Greenberg and I’ve also seen Gerwig in supporting roles in mainstream fare Arthur and No Strings Attached, but that’s it). Second thing, it doesn’t always take a lot in a movie to make you love or hate it. Sometimes it’s just how the film strikes you, which can then make you look like a real hypocrite if you praise one film to the skies for something and then damn another that covers similiar ground.
I loved Frances Ha, just loved it, but I don’t really know why. I don’t know how it all came together so perfectly to keep me spellbound and smiling from start to finish. It just did, despite the fact that some of the elements put into any other movie would be enough to roll my eyes and start wishing for the whole thing to end quickly.
Gerwig, who co-wrote the film with Baumbach, stars as Frances, a young woman who is also very much like a little girl at times. She loves dancing, and wants to do that for as long as possible, and loves her bestest best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Things start to take a downturn when Sophie begins to move forward with her life while Frances is stuck in a bit of a mire. As she moves from one address to another, barely making ends meet sometimes, she starts to lose what little hope she has left of living her life on her own terms. But maybe there’s still a way, maybe it just takes a bit of compromise here and there.
With the black and white cinematography throughout, parade of amusing and interesting characters and a lead character prone to more flights of fancy than Anne Of Green Gables, this could have been a disaster. The fact that it isn’t, the fact that it’s so enjoyable instead, stems from both the script and the lead performance. It also helps that nobody in the supporting cast puts a foot wrong. Mickey Sumner is great in the role of the best friend who shares a genuine love with Frances, Michael Zegen and Adam Driver are both entertaining as Benji and Lev, respectively, two young men who come into Frances’s life at just the right point to make a valuable contribution.
The script really nails the themes being explored (that unreplaceable love between two true friends, that desire to spend your life doing what you know you are best at, that lost place and time in between becoming an adult in the eyes of the law and actually seeing yourself as an adult when you look in the mirror) without ever being dull or bordering on the pretentious. In fact, it’s laugh out loud funny on more than one occasion and always manages to show the flaws of the central character without ever making anything too cringe-inducing.
I’ll be watching more Baumbach movies as soon as I can. I’ll also be watching Greta Gerwig in anything that she appears in. For now, however, I may revisit Frances Ha while it’s showing at EIFF 2013 and I encourage everyone else to catch it while they have the chance. Oh, and the soundtrack includes some great use of Bowie and Hot Chocolate. Which is another big plus.
DIRECTOR: NOAH BAUMBACH
WRITER: NOAH BAUMBACH, GRETA GERWIG
STARS: GRETA GERWIG, MICKEY SUMNER, MICHAEL ESPER, ADAM DRIVER, MICHAEL ZEGEN, CHARLOTT D’AMBOISE, GRACE GUMMER, PATRICK HEUSINGER
RUNTIME: 86 MINS APPROX