“I’m sorry I’m not a real person as yet!”
I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Noah Baumbach’s films. I was high on The Squid and the Whale but couldn’t muster an iota of passion for his follow-up Margot at the Wedding. Though I didn’t give much thought to Greenberg, his previous film, it did offer a side to Ben Stiller that we rarely see – the talented side. It also introduced me to the talents of a one Greta Gerwig, a blossoming young actress who now graduates to the star (and co-writer) of Frances Ha, Baumbach’s latest film.
Unlike many of the filmmaker’s previous works, which tend to be characterized by their pessimistic characters and sometimes misanthropic world-view, Frances Ha is a dramatic departure – it’s a captivating gem of a movie that injects you with a high and leaves you grinning for hours on end. Think of it as a Woody Allen film for the millennial generation.
Part character study, part coming-of-age tale, Frances Ha, which is shot in beautiful black and white, is a winning portrait of Frances (Gerwig) a slightly awkward, 27-year-old New Yorker whose lust-for-life is only matched by her inability to find stability in her chaotic life. Immature, aloof, only partly employed, with no car, credit card or even a boyfriend, Frances is what one her friends calls “undateable,” an oft repeated gag that even she eventually comes to believe.
Perhaps the only thing resembling a grain of stability in her life is her relationship with best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). The two women, who met in college, maintain such a close, irreplaceable bond that Frances jokes, “We’re like a lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex anymore.” When Sophie abruptly announces that she’s moving out to live with another friend, Frances’ world suddenly loses its only bridge to reality. Forced to move from apartment to apartment, in search of friends, and because she can’t afford the stratospheric New York rents on her measly part-time gig wages, Frances soon realizes how much she misses and counted on Sophie.
What’s so effortlessly endearing about Frances (and Gerwig’s extraordinary performance) is that even though she’s poor and has no idea what she’s going to do tomorrow, where she’s going to stay or even how she’s going to come up with the money for rent, she maintains a effervescent attitude. While some would be quick to label her as the dreaded “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” Baumbach and Gerwig avoid that indie trope by gifting her with real heft, depth and character quirks that come from a sincere place. She’s a deeply flawed person who can be extremely selfish, annoying and careless with her finances. Case in point… in one terrifically-cut sequence (scored to Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner”), Frances spends close to $4,000 on a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to Paris where all she does is sleep even when she knows she’s broke and can’t afford it.
Her behavior is not too far from many 20-somethings who I’ve encountered and personally know. Being one myself, I found many of the film’s small moments surprisingly on-point. Through their rich, witty and incisive script, Baumbach and Gerwig are able to capture that post-college, pre-career moment of frustration in the millennial generation’s lives, where nothing makes sense.
Even though I’ve been in the workforce for little over five years now, I still sometimes feel lost, uncertain of the future, and longing for the comforts of college life. That Baumbach and Gerwig are able to capture that feeling through the lens of this young woman is just fascinating. Gerwig in particular is simply extraordinary in a career and star-making performance that deserves to be in the conversation at the end of the year.
With not so subtle nods to French New Wave cinema and Woody Allen, Frances Ha is an endearing and enjoyable ode to friendships, growing up, and being a struggling 20-something. Although its bubbly nature, slight storyline and peculiar character can be unfortunately perceived as precious, a sharp, sincere and frank script by Noah Baumbach and a stunning performance by star and co-writer Greta Gerwig deserve credit for elevating the film into a defining document of the millennial generation.
Frances Ha is now playing in Miami-Dade county at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach 18 and AMC Sunset Place. The film opens in Palm Beach county at the following locations: Living Room Theaters, Regal Delray Beach, Regal Shadowood and Cinemark Palace.