Directed by Noah Baumbach
United States, 2012
Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to 2010’s Greenberg, shot on the sly in New York City, has all the feel of the (sometimes) dreaded mumblecore tag in its first 15 minutes, but quickly shakes the comparison to be a sweet, funny film that leans heavily on its star and co-writer Greta Gerwig.
Frances (Gerwig) can’t get her life together. 27 years old and everyone around her seems to be growing up much faster than she. She’s a dancer without a company, a traveler without a destination, and an aimless Brooklyn-ite without a best friend once long-time roommate and confidant Sophie (Mickey Sumner) moves on to bigger and better things.
Frances Ha is a simple narrative that should appeal to more than just the few niche audiences it seems immediately tailored towards. There’s the “I can totally relate” 20-somethings, the “I’m glad that’s over” post-20-somethings, and fans of the Leos Carax and French New Wave references that Baumbach slides in throughout.
Shot in black and white, it’s not just the photography of New York that calls to mind Woody Allen. It’s also the idea of repetition. Remember that famous lobster scene from Annie Hall, so heartbreaking the second time through? Baumbach and Gerwig use a similar approach (see: Frances’ hilarious penchant for play-fighting) and the result is less an apathetic slog through vicenarian years, and more a carefree ode to late maturation.
Baumbach moves easily between extended scenes and breezy montages, the highlights of which are a long dinner scene with new acquaintances and a visit to Paris. The former, packed with wince-worthy lines, is a simply shot meal that’s probably uncomfortable for everyone except the one it should be uncomfortable for. The latter, a hilariously depressing sequence, is highlighted by Baumbach’s framing of the city of lights not as dusky destination of romance, but as boring New York stand-in.
That Frances is an optimist – not quite in the Happy Go-Lucky mold, but whimsical nonetheless – ultimately makes Frances Ha the superior picture to Greenberg. Though she trips, drinks, flails and embarrasses her way through a good 70% of the film, she rarely complains; it’s the audience that makes excuses for her.
– Neal Dhand