Frances Ha (****)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, and Michael Zegen.
(QFT Preview 23/07/13)
Frances Ha will be screening at the QFT from 26th July-8th August 2013.
NOAH Baumbach makes an overdue return with indie queen Greta Gerwig in tow as the eponymous heroine, Frances Ha, in this New York set, silver-tongued, silver-toned off-beat comedy.
The film opens with a wonderful extended montage of moments between Frances and her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), inviting the audience into their complicit secret world of intimacy, fun and carelessness. For Frances it is her whole world- they share an apartment, she meets Sophie after work, often falling asleep in each other’s beds. So when Sophie’s life goes upwardly mobile and she decides to move out of their apartment, leaving Frances behind; the event sends Frances on an emotional and literal roller coaster.
Frances finds herself adrift at 27 years old with no home, no career- she is an apprentice dancer- and no-one to turn to. It’s a thoroughly modern predicament. From this point Frances goes on a literal journey, bouncing from one address to the other. She shacks up first with two pseudo-creative hipsters, Benji and Lev (Michael Zegen and Adam Driver), as she continues to follow her half-hearted dreams of being a dancer.
The film hints at a romance with Benji as he becomes the closest thing to a Sophie-surrogate Frances experience, before she is on the move again, spending the holidays with her parents in Sacramento and then staying with another of the dancers from her company in New York. Finally, the ultimate humiliation comes after a desperately lonely trip to Paris, when Frances is forced to go back to her college to work. While she is there though, a chance encounter with Sophie helps to finally put Frances back on the right track.
As ever in a Baumbach film, the dialogue sparkles and the characters are well drawn. The Frances-Sophie relationship in particular is wonderfully brought to life by Gerwig and Sumner. There is also, despite the loneliness Frances is subject to, a greater sense of warmth to the film, and characters are shown in an overall more sympathetic light than in Baumbach’s previous films, which can perhaps be attributed to Gerwig’s presence as co-screenwriter as well as star.
It is not just the film’s scripting that is meticulous though. The luminous black and white photography of Sam Levy ensures that Harris Savides’ absence does not hurt the film- the modern great of cinematography, who shot Baumbach’s two previous films, sadly died last year. The framing in the film is highly organised, particularly in regard to Frances who is often isolated or trapped- as is the case with the tiny prison-like elevator to her Paris apartment. It is also, however, a key theme of the film. Framing determines what we see and what we don’t- giving Frances Ha not only her name, but, as the film closes, her dream romantic moment too.
Ultimately the star of the film isn’t Baumbach’s direction or Levy’s crisp photography though, it’s Greta Gerwig who brings a fundamental energy and warmth to Frances, but also sadness behind those big, beguiling eyes. There’s a natural compulsion to Frances: a goofy, clunky charm and honesty that makes you utterly enthralled by her.
In a way, this contributes to the film’s weaknesses too- the film’s fast-tracked ending leaves you feeling Baumbach and Gerwig didn’t have the heart to give Frances anything other than a dignified happy ending, although it’s not quite wrapped up in a Hollywood bow. It’s hard to deny her though, and thus for both filmmaker and audience alike, Frances Ha is impossible to resist.
Review by Richard Davis