Indie film it-girl Greta Gerwig reteams with her Greenberg director Noah Baumbach for Frances Ha, a low-rent black and white comedy about a directionless New York hipster closing in on the end of her twenties. If such a description makes you cringe then rest assured you’re not alone; films about the plight of the East Coast creative type are in vogue at the moment, typically recognisable by the presence of a lot of pseudo-intellectualist white people, often but not necessarily sporting thick rimmed glasses, whinging about how hard it is to be them. But although Frances Ha is not entirely free of these irksome affectations, it still works for the most part thanks to a genuinely funny script and an endearingly awkward central performance from its charming leading lady.
Framed around the steady decline in the living situation of its hopeless titular heroine, France Ha follows the various problems of 28 year old Frances (Gerwig), an aspiring dancer living in Brooklyn whose life is thrown into turmoil when her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner; TVs The Borgais) abruptly decides to move out. Unable to pay the rent by herself, Frances is forced to hop from one apartment to another, while at the same time making a series of increasingly poor personal decisions in an attempt to attain some direction.
Undoubtedly the film’s biggest strength is Gerwig, whose natural sunniness as both an actress and as Baumbach’s co-writer works to neutralize the directors more cynical inclinations. Full of amusing dialogue, Frances Ha is blessedly more interested with being funny and relatable than it is with trying to make pretentious statement about generational or societal detachment. An awkward dinner party sequence pushes the wayward but likeable Frances a little too far into the realm of the pathetic, but otherwise the character remain relatively sympathetic (a nice change from, say, Lena Dunham in Tiny Furniture, or indeed, the protagonists in Baumbach’s other films like Greenberg and Margot at the Wedding).
The dramatic beats are as effective as the humour, particularly those based around the dynamic between Frances and Sophie – everyone has experienced a fading friendship, and the two actresses capture perfectly all the hurt and frustration it entails. Almost as strong is the chemistry between Frances and one her of numerous temporary roommates Benji (Michael Zegen; TVs The Walking Dead), neither of whom willing to act on the obvious sexual tension floating between them. Somewhat unfortunately, these two relationships are more central to the first half of the film, whereas the second tends to meander more, reflective of its protagonists indecision.
The black and white cinematography looks nice but is also distracting in how blatantly it’s aping Manhattan (a comparisons by which Frances fares poorly). That aside, Baumbach does make very good use of the cities iconic locales, something that made it a real favourite of the crowd at the New York Film Festival (many of whom looked like they could have played Frances’ snarky friends, and who probably walked past a half a dozen of the film’s locations on their way to the Lincoln Centre screening).
Frances Ha was reviewed as part of our coverage of the 2012 New York Film Festival.