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Frances Ha

2012 | 86 min | R | 1.85:1

Frances Ha


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Theatrical release date

 17 May, 2013
 26 July, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Frances Ha Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 23, 2013

Writer/director Noah Baumbach has spent the last chunk of his career working on his anger issues, funneling his insecurities into pictures such as “Margot at the Wedding” and “Greenberg.” “Frances Ha” comes off as a calculated attempt by Baumbach to remind his audience that he’s not such a creep, working intimately with star/co-writer Greta Gerwig on a tale of delayed adolescence hitting a rough patch of reality. It’s a comedy, though often a painful one, displaying bouncy pop songs and a chipper attitude despite its investment in depicting the natural progression of stale friendships, counting on Gerwig’s sludgy delivery and credible embodiment of woman-child impulses to sprinkle sugar on the behavioral poison.

Frances (Greta Gerwig) is 27 years old and an aspiring modern dancer in New York City facing pressure to support herself as she navigates life after college. Her best friend and roommate is Sophie (Mickey Sumner), a collegiate pal who’s moving on with her life, planning to shack up with her boyfriend, leaving Frances behind. Forced to rework her living situation while processing this new void in her life, Frances moves in with trust-fund buddies Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen), hoping to establish a fresh social network to cover the loss of Sophie. However, attempts to clear her mind and fill her life prove ill-fated, always returning Frances to a party of one. Growing desperate after she loses her job and additional living spaces, Frances fights to maintain her sunny disposition, going to great measures to inject a little adventure in her life.

Credit should go to “Frances Ha” for using women as the focal point for a story of immaturity, predominately the cinematic domain of bearded men. We first meet Frances and Sophie in a park where the two are wrestling with glee, soon off on a daytime tear that finds the ladies trading music and dance for tips on a street corner and urinating on a subway line. It’s immediately established that the roommates have an easy rapport, with their apartment a confessional for the pair to share deep thoughts and fears, displaying the thickness of the cocoon around Frances as she delays the burden of self-sufficiency. She apprentices with a struggling modern dance company and pours her energy into this friendship, commencing “Frances Ha” on a crystal clear note of co-dependency, temptingly arranged by the screenplay in an efficient manner. Baumbach also sets a curious mood by introducing heavy Woody Allen touches, including black and white cinematography and rhapsodic music cues to support scenes of humiliation and mild slapstick. The influence is pronounced, but the film doesn’t always live up to such promise.

Embracing Frances as a flawed woman with compelling idiosyncrasies is more difficult than expected due to Gerwig’s insistent quirks, essentially reheating previous performances in similar films (such as last year’s cyanide pill, “Lola Versus”) instead of finding original beats to play to inspect the character in full. Gerwig is more competent settled, but Baumbach rarely has the actress stationary, and as the feature’s affectations increase, so does the desire to turn Frances into an accident-prone disaster without fascinating shades of personality. The director pushes “Frances Ha” into broad comedy on occasion, and while the effort isn’t offensive and the dialogue snappy enough (though habitually self-aware and nonsensical), the picture is better served in dark spaces, absorbing Frances’s perceived betrayal as she watches Sophie jet away to a better life with her fiancé. Testing Gerwig’s slow tongue and ways with comedic discomfort water down the pathos, turning Frances’s oceanic voyage of self into a splashy bathtub paddle.

What Baumbach does successfully secure is a depiction of a fledgling friendship, striking a wonderfully specific note of defeat as Frances buries her true feelings under uncharacteristic bile, protecting her own fragile heart from breaking without her BFF around. It’s a well-observed subplot that keeps “Frances Ha” from swallowing itself in mannered business, watching the lead character deal with the absence through misguided attempts at soulful ignition via impulsive (and disastrous) travel and fits of stubbornness. The final act also contains communicative gems as Frances flirts with employability on the road to adulthood (culminating with a sublime closing scene). It’s encouraging material, making one wish Baumbach shared this type of emotional and psychological focus for the entirety of the movie. Instead, he’s made an intermittently attentive comedy with a few intolerable detours, only as insightful as it wants to be.

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Esper
Director: Noah Baumbach

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