Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Director: Noah Baumbach
Rated: R Run Time:
Golden haired, lovely and perpetually frazzled, Greta Gerwig is the current darling of indie cinema, first conquering the zero budget boho world of “Mumblecore” then moving into the slightly higher profile art house fare of notable director’s like Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress). She remains unsullied even after even dipping her toes into the mainstream with the woe begotten remake of Arthur. Gerwig’s real debutante ball, at least in the eyes of many film snobs, was playing the smart, sweetly pathetic romantic foil to Ben Stiller’s epic grump in Greenberg (2009). That role earned her love from not only from critics, but the film’s director, Noah Baumbach, who is now her live in boyfriend. So it is that the gorgeously made Frances Ha serves as a love letter from director to star, and like all love notes that aren’t ours, it’s intimate, mawkish and in some vital ways, unknowable.
Gerwig’s Frances Halladay is a gawky, lovably hapless twenty something Manhattanite, whose career and personal lives have simultaneously come to a stand still. Her prestigious dance company is on the verge of cutting her, her boyfriend of the moment dumps her, and worse, her long time roommate and bestie soul mate Sofie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of Sting) is moving out. Frances embarks on the long, dark couch surf of the soul, bouncing across flats and boroughs with a sort of aimless, drifting restlessness with no end in sight. Away from her BFF, she struggles to fit in; one potential suitor playfully observes that her quirks and foibles make her “undateable”. When she forgets to bring cash to a dinner date she blurts “I’m so embarrassed-I’m not a real person yet.” Frances is the personification of whim: She flies alone to Paris for a weekend on a credit card she’s can’t afford, just because some snooty dinner party guests blathered on about the wonders of the city of lights.
The dirty secret is that secretly none of this bothers her as much as she thinks it should, and her perpetual discomfort has more to do with the embarrassment of not being as shamelessly ambitious as her peers. Like all of Baumbach’s protagonists, Frances is stuck in a post adolescent twilight, reluctant to move onward and upward, but unlike those other sourpusses, she isn’t bitter; she just is, and when she finally gives herself permission to be weird, and happy and free, then inspiration flows like champagne, just as bubbly as she is.
Some will deem this too precious by half: an indulgent assortment of film school hipster affectations presented in luminous black and white just because. Some will sniff at the cheeky obviousness of Baumbach’s fawning ode to his French new wave heroes being paired with a bouncy ‘80s new wave soundtrack. Fair enough, but if you can resist the sight of Gerwig giddily romping through New York to David Bowie’s “Modern Love”, then your heart is flinty indeed.
The cool downtown settings, frank, snarky sex talk and female bonding, along with the presence of the oddly endearing Adam Driver, will bring to mind HBO’s Girls, but Frances Ha is a gentler, more openly affectionate trip inside the self absorbed millennial psyche. While the movie is sometimes wan and wispy, it is always as funny and exuberant as its star. Like a 21st century Annie Hall, Gerwig (who co-wrote the script) is at turns radiant, infuriating and captivating. The camera loves her nearly as much as the man behind it.