Oh, Greta Gerwig, I forgive you for last year’s Damsels in Distress. You are glorious as Frances. I want your character to come over and just hang out on my living room couch. Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha is easily one of the best films of the year.
Baumbach films are usually awkward. Remember The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Greenberg (2010)? Their main characters muddle through scenes, get embarrassed, and can barely hold their own in any public situation. Frances is on the same quirky end of the spectrum as them, but is not as socially inept. She is the one person in the room you really want to have a conversation with.
When lighting up a cigarette indoors, Frances says, “This makes me feel like a bad mother in 1987.” Could there be a better-written line than that? In a perfect world, Baumbach and Gerwig would receive a best original screenplay nomination. Their deadpan and remarkably creative banter is on Tarantino’s tier; they are that good.
Frances is 27 and still carries around that just out of college feeling. She is a fledgling apprentice dancer in a lesser New York dance company and is not making a very strong case for advancement. She is too clumsy and has all the grace of a rhinoceros to ever be considered as a featured dancer. But it is what she loves to do and Frances has far too much integrity to accept a desk job to just to pay the bills.
Money and lack of it is an ongoing theme in the film. Frances habitually has very little of it yet her circle of friends are mostly trust fund babies or have professional and well-financed careers. She is falling behind her peers who are beginning to climb the rungs of their respective career ladders. Frances is nowhere near clearing her first rung.
Frances’s best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), is in publishing, dates a guy named Patch (Patrick Heusinger) who Frances can’t stand, and may be maturing out of their uncommonly intimate relationship. Frances and Sophie are both heterosexual, but any causal observer could not be blamed for assuming there was more going on. They frequently share the same bed, Frances refers to the two of them as the same person, and they speak in that sort of code talk that best friends are able to do because they have known each other for so long.
Frances is close to being co-dependent on Sophie which is why it knocks her entire world off axis when Sophie up and moves out to live in her dream neighborhood, Tribeca, leaving Frances in the lurch. Frances cannot afford Tribeca so she starts couch hopping with friends to maintain some sort of shelter. Her dancing career is pretty much a pipe dream which pays next to nothing, her best friend ditched her for classier digs, and the one guy who appears to a good fit, Benji (Michael Zegen), classifies Frances as undateable.
France Ha is a standard coming of age tale yet presents the issues and obstacles of this time is a completely newfound manner. You have never seen it done this way. Baumbach shot it in crisp black and white and what looks like close to a nothing budget but it remains effective. Frances Ha is also very much a New York City movie; the subway, the New York neighborhood discussions, and the ridiculous cost of everything populate almost every conversation. It is not a Woody Allen love letter; it’s more of a, ‘I really like you’ letter.
I cannot imagine anyone walking out of the theater not completely enthralled with what Gerwig did with Frances. She is a character I will not soon forget. She drinks too much and needs to work on her individual metamorphosis rather than lament the successes of her friends, but in the end, you will never forget her.
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Patrick Heusinger, Charlotte d'Amboise