Arts Review, The Arts

Frances Ha

Frances Ha featured image

Photo from independent.co.uk

Noah Baumbach, director and co-script w/Greta Gerwig

Starring: Greta Gerwig (Frances Handley), Mickey Sumner (Sophie), Charlotte d’Amboise (Colleen), Adam Driver (Lev), Michael Esper (Dan), Grace Gummer (Rachel), Patrick Heusinger (Patch)

The buzz

The collaboration in life and on film of former “mumblecore” Indie actress Greta Gerwig and Sundance winning filmmaker Noah Baumbach has been attracting much media attention, leading up to a major New Yorker article last month.

Frances Ha premiered last fall at Telluride in the US and TIFF in Canada, garnering plaudits from critics in both festivals.

The genres

Character study; comedy-drama

The premise

As the film begins, Frances is a 20-something dancer living in Brooklyn with her best friend since college, Sophie. Slowly, their relationship unravels as Sophie spends more time with her boyfriend Patch. When Sophie moves out of their apartment, Frances starts to drift through life, finding a place for a while with well-off young artists Lev and Dan and then eventually turning to couch surfing at friends’ homes. Frances is dismissed as an alternate by the dance troupe she’s been desperately trying to join with the advice that she should consider becoming an arts administrator and choreographer.

After spending Christmas back in California with her parents (who are played by Gerwig’s mother and father), Frances returns to a Manhattan and Brooklyn arts scene that is becoming less receptive to her. Sophie leaves with Patch for Japan. When Frances retreats to her old college as a summer replacement employee, things finally turn around. Sophie returns and re-ignites their friendship. Frances finally accepts that her future is in choreography and, at least for a while, arts administration. She presents her first choreographed performance to applause from all of her friends and gets her own apartment.

The performances

As a director, Baumbach goes for low-key naturalistic performances with the exception of his leads who are allowed to play out their traumas in a more histrionic style. One thinks of Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding and Ben Stiller in Greenberg as quintessential Baumbach characters: narcissists who believe that they’re much nicer than they really are. What makes Frances Ha exceptional in his oeuvre is the acting of Gerwig, who comes across as a naturally effervescent spirit, worth watching even at her most vulnerable moments. The rest of the ensemble is fine but only Adam Driver, almost reprising his role in Lena Dunham’s Girls, stands out at all. This is truly a character study—and Gerwig makes the film work.

The director and writer

Baumbach and Gerwig seem to have been cut from the same creative cloth. Each likes to dramatize lives that are remarkably similar to their own. Baumbach’s best film, The Squid and the Whale, revisited his life growing up in Brooklyn, dealing with the divorce of his parents. While Frances Ha is hardly the story of Gerwig’s life, it feels like a composite tale of 20-somethings she might know. The dialogue, the funny, nearly tragic aimlessness of Frances, the texture and rhythm of life among contemporary hipsters has been captured in an almost effortless manner by the duo.

The skinny

Baumbach and Gerwig may have invented a new genre, Brooklyn Chic. There are only two possible reactions to Frances Ha (and her collection of artsy bohemians). You’re either charmed by them or annoyed. I was charmed.

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