Saturday, May 18, 2013


There is that moment when your friend is telling you about his or her life, and it all sounds so perfect, and according to plan, and what you should be your only proper response is to lie that everything with you is going just fine, and "pretty great myself", out of a sense of competition but also a desire to give a sense of false comfort to yourself. Frances Ha has one of the best of those moments ever captured in a film. HBO's "Girls" had a similar moment in this past uneven season, but Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner, as Frances and Sophie, two best friends whose paths post-college are going in wildly different directions, make this phone conversation, crossing the Atlantic, so grand and vivid. Frances is a modern dancer, only she has all the determination and passion for the art form without the requisite talent. Sophie is working a nine-to-five at a book publisher's agency. Clearly one is making more money than the other, and there begins the fork in the road of their relationship.

While Frances Ha is about these two women and how they grow apart over the course of several months, the focus is squarely on Frances, as she bounces from one apartment to another, struggling to find a permanent place in a modern dance company where she has been apprenticing for who knows how long. The film is broken into chapters based on her current address, beginning in Brooklyn, jumping to Chinatown (living with Adam Driver, another link to the film's apparent sister series, "Girls", and Michael Zegen, a single writer whose constant flirtations go unnoticed), then to a couch in the apartment of established dancer Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter), and finally to a summer camp in Poughkeepsie, surrounded by younger college students judging her lack of upward motion post-graduation. Even a splurge trip to Paris for two days results in missed opportunities and generally ignored tourist sights in the background. Frances' story concludes with a rather pat final sequence, almost too perfect in its solutions to her problems, but does wisely leave room for her continued self-improvement. A character this dynamic and with such interesting quirks and dilemmas cannot be perfected within the space of a narrative feature film. By the end credits roll, Frances has turned a corner, but she has many more ahead of her. As I left the theater, I wondered what was in store for Frances, and hell, myself, as we both traveled life's journey after graduating college and pursue finding stability, love, and a space in the world all your own.

Noah Baumbach, a polarizing director whose work either inspires rage or empathy from his viewers, has rather wisely shared this film with Gerwig, who is credited as the script's co-writer. This makes it far easier to recommend Frances Ha to anti-Baumbach enthusiasts, because the finished product feels more like a Gerwig vehicle, from page to screen, than a Baumbach vision. Gerwig herself, however, has raised the ire of some viewers, who find her hipster pixie girl persona off-putting and phony. To those viewers, I bite my thumb. In this title character, and in just about everything else she's done, she is warm and funny and awkward and beautiful. We wince as Frances makes bad decisions, and applaud her small triumphs, and it's because of the vibrancy Gerwig so fearlessly gives her character. The highlight of the film, seen in the trailer, finds Gerwig running and dancing across New York crosswalks to David Bowie's "Modern Love", with a sense of joyous adventure and eager excitement that cannot help but be infectious. It is this shameless exuberance that makes Frances Ha such a pleasure.

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