Poor Frances Halloway (Greta Gerwig) just doesn’t quite fit, in Frances Ha (opening today), the latest film from director Noah Baumbach.
Baumbach has created a unique visual style and voice for himself over his career with his increasingly impressive array of work, ranging from his direction on films like The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg, to penning the screenplays for The Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox and most recently (one of my favorite films of 2012) Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. That’s quite the spectrum of films. With Frances Ha, he hits upon familiar indy tones while landing upon something fresh.
The movie is about as simple as it gets. Shot in black and white and following the life of New Yorker, late-twenty-something, Frances, it’s reminiscent of a film you would stumble upon at an obscure film festival, maybe produced by a budding local artist who saved money on production by casting his friends in the lead roles. Lucky for Baumbach, he is friends with Greta Gerwig, who is quickly becoming this generation’s Parker Posey.
Gerwig shines as a young woman who lives with her bestest of friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). In just a few short scenes, their incredibly close relationship is palpable and made evident. But like most of us, there comes a point in our lives where things just move on, whether or not we are ready to go along for the ride. Frances’ dreams and ambitions – if you can call them that – don’t quite fit into the realities of her life or those around her.
Gerwig of course first found real fame in Baumbach’s Greenberg, opposite Ben Stiller. Last year, she starred in Lola Versus, an under-rated and under-appreciated film that was among my favorite films of the year (we won’t mention Gerwig’s performance in Damsels in Distress, a movie I loathed, but won some critical praise in its own right). On the surface, her character in Frances Ha is very similar to that of Lola. But although she is playing another hot mess of a character, she somehow reveals different facets of herself. It’s a remarkable performance.
Frances wants to be a dancer but her instructor pushes her into a different career path. Frances wants to remain best buds with Sophie for the rest of her life, but Sophie has dreams of her own. Frances is so “undate-able” – as labeled by one of her guy friends – that she ends up having just that: A bunch of guy friends, but nobody really willing to take her on. Not that Frances is ready for an adult relationship.
In the hands of Noah Baumbach and on the strength of Gerwig’s performance, Frances Ha is a touching, charming and sweet story told in the most elementary of ways. There is power in performance, but these virtues are extracted by a director with a true gift for story-telling. If ever less is more, then this is it. The short 86-minute run-time left it feeling a bit rushed and light at times, but it never took away from the film’s impact.
For anyone that has ever tried to plug a square peg into a round hole, or if you’ve ever been forced to grow up, Frances Ha is the film for you. Though she doesn’t know which direction to lean into and gets swept up from time to time, we root for Frances, because we all have been there.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen
Written by Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
Directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid & The Whale, Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding)
Opens locally on Friday, May 24, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time