2012, Dir. Noah Baumbach
Intelligent, gawky, non-stereotypically beautiful and undeniably charismatic, Greta Gerwig is the perfect antidote to the polished young Hollywood, a worthy, at last, new talent to talk about. Surely, at 29 and with several credits in mumblecore and other indie films, she is not exactly the new kid on the block but Frances Ha marks, without a doubt, her entrance to stardom.
Gerwig clearly is a muse for talented filmmaker and real-life partner Noah Baumbach, but he never treats her like a radiant goddess. Like other of his protagonists, her title character is caught in a post-collegiate malaise; not mature enough for the Real World, she’s still living out of a dorm figuratively (and, at one point, literally) and barely working as an apprentice at a dance company, struggling to make ends meet. While breaking up with her boyfriend seems like a necessary routine, the announcement that her best friend Sophie will be moving out of their flat comes as a big blow. Refreshingly, Frances’ most important relationship is not a romantic link but an idealised friendship that provides the film’s core; what sets off Frances’ journey is the realisation that growing up also means, to a great extend, growing apart.
Despite her gradual separation from whom she sees as herself “with different hair”, Frances does not lose her joie de vivre and Baumbach and Gerwig celebrate every little joy and mishap in her stunted growth in full force. Insecure, clumsy, socially awkward, impulsive and, as one character frequently puts it, “undateable”, Frances remains uniquely genuine, a delight to watch even (or one could say even more) when she messes up. Contrarily to what could end up a quirky clutter of kooky young New Yorkers, her efforts and failures never cease to feel real and we can’t help but fall in love with her by the end of the film and want her to succeed. Frances has a great sense of humour, and so does this film, brimming with real-life wit and relatable situations; i.e a scene in which, desperate for late-night cash, she finally finds an ATM but almost refuses to use it because of the $3 bank fee.
If there’s one theme that defines Frances Ha, it’s its lack of stasis, a fitting characteristic considering its protagonist’s inclination to dance. Frequently uprooted by causes not always prompted by her actions, Frances finds herself couch-surfing across scattered New York City flats, and Baumbach’s episodic film is divided by title cards indicating her varied address changes over the course of a year or so. The filmmaker soaks his film in vintage Nouvelle Vague ambience, from its grainy, monochrome photography and lively montages to its more direct associations: a reference to Jean-Pierre Leaud, a Bande à Part homage, and a running-in-the-streets scene choreographed to David Bowie’s Modern Love, which conjures a similar moment from Leos Carax’s New Wave-inspired Mauvais Sang (1986).
Light and optimistic in tone, the film is given a fairy tale-like denouement with Frances finally crossing the half-way point she’s been lingering over –and that makes of an hour and 26 minutes of cinematic joy. Her reunion with Sophie is as emotional as Manhattan’s famous finale but, more than a mere tribute to Woody Allen’s mastery, the scene, as Frances Ha in its whole, holds its own charming idiosyncrasy; a unique mixture of exuberance, melancholy and compassion all brought out by its star’s perfect-to-the note performance.