VOD film review: Frances Ha
Ivan Radford | On 23, Dec 2013
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickie Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Segen
“I’m sorry, I’m not a real person yet.”
That’s Frances (Gerwig) to her date before running out of a restaurant to find a cash machine. She does a lot of running. Sometimes, she skips or twirls. At other times, she falls over. Most of the time, she grins like an excited child.
Noah Baumbach’s freewheeling delight follows suit, dashing through the streets of Brooklyn with an infectious energy. A dancer who doesn’t dance, Frances literally tumbles through life, a bundle of physical and emotional chaos. Her best friend Sophie (Sumner) – “we’re the same person with different hair” – has no such problem: after years of living together, she moves on to a banker boyfriend (Driver) and fancy new home. Frances, meanwhile, hops between homes, looking for another meaningful companion.
“Have you ever tried play fighting?” she asks one Sophie substitute, before starting to hit her in the park. She stops when she sees their shocked reaction. “You’re supposed to fight back!”
“Undateable,” sighs rich boy (and future flatmate) Benji (an amusing Michael Segen).
Baumbach’s previous films have made an art out of teasing laughs from painful situations; spiky balls of wit that invite unexpected sympathy for horrible people. Compared to those, Frances Ha is practically a Disney film. Age, aimlessness, being alone. All are addressed in what could have been a depressing drama, but this is a warm comedy that embraces the likeability of its lead character – then wraps itself up in it and rolls around the floor while giggling.
A lot of that likeability comes from Greta Gerwig herself. Co-writing the script, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the lost twenty-something with the same twee charm. Everything about her is perfect, from the goofy grin and uncomfortable silences to her physical presence, all graceful dance moves and flailing, gangly limbs.
Her company is a burst of colour in a monochrome world – Sam Levy’s black-and-white cinematography recalls the high-contrast beauty of Gordon Willis’ work on Broadway Danny Rose and Manhattan, as well as the raw immediacy of the French New Wave. Baumbach’s use of music even nods to Truffaut – and, at one point, Leos Carax, when he wheels out David Bowie’s Modern Love.
But for all the references lying around its cluttered bedroom, Frances Ha retains its own jumbled personality: one that stems directly from Gerwig’s great performance. Puss in Boots. Paris. Peeing in public. On the surface, Frances looks like a hipster fest of quirk and kook. But she’s no Manic Pixie Dream Girl; she never exists to improve someone else’s life. Instead, she’s something far more special: a fully-realised female character. Supported by the excellent Mickie Sumner, the pair create an optimistic celebration of friendship and failing to grow up – a quarter-life crisis overwhelmed by its heroine’s smile. Cutting between chapters in her life, bookmarked by her changing address, it’s a film in flux that whips you along for an unpresuming, carefree joy ride. In that sense, Frances Ha may be Noah Baumbach’s sixth film, but it feels like his first.
“I’m sorry, I’m not a real person yet,” she confesses, sounding exactly like a real person. After 86 minutes watching her run through life, Frances Ha will leave you wanting to do just that.