Noah Baumbach finally comes good in Frances Ha, his charming, purposefully retro take on the aimless life of a twenty-something New Yorker. Updating a raft of cinematic influences, and especially Woody Allen, to the East Coast bohemian milieu that has been Baumbach’s stock and trade since The Squid & The Whale, Frances Ha is held together by its love, and ours, for the wit and charm of star/co-writer Greta Gerwig. And boy is she witty and charming.
Blindsided by the desire of her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) to move out of their shared apartment, and cast out from her dance school apprenticeship, Frances is a woman unmoored by personal and professional failure. The struggle of an immature adult to find a sense of purpose may be a familiar story arc, but the empathy and comedy provided by Gerwig as Frances gives the film palpable, irresistible life.
Disreputable, disarmingly open and ramblingly intelligent, Frances finds herself in a host of toe curling situations, from an accident-filled sprint to an ATM during a date to awkward dinner party conversation with ‘responsible’ grownups. While never quite resolving an apparent desire for us to feel sorry for her – Frances is far more interesting than any of the people she meets, and despite their assertions, clearly more dateable – it remains a convincing portrait of a drifting character, riddled with brilliantly offhand comedy.
The delightful moments are almost too numerous to list, although special mention has to go to fantastic takedowns of Brooklyn hipsters, complete with spec scripts for Gremlins 3 and the grating phrase ‘Ahoy Sexy;’ as well as the open, spiky banter between Frances and Sophie that represents the ultimate antidote to the questionable politics of Sex and the City.
Splitting hairs, Frances Ha eventually comes to an overly tidy, upbeat ending, and its sketchbook structure, while mostly successful, often smacks of needing to find new scenarios for its heroine’s shtick. That’s especially true of Frances’ decision to take a sojourn to Paris, while the use of black and white – evoking Woody Allen’s Manhattan – and constant French New Wave references will for some represent Baumbach at his most heavy-handed.
These are minor flaws, though, when Frances remains such a consistent, surprising joy. Gerwig has created an endlessly loveable hero for the same generation to have fallen for Lena Dunham’s