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Flicks - Frances Ha
Frances Ha 13/06/06 3:09
Flicks - Frances Ha
Greta Gerwig plays a young woman whose meandering attempts to get somewhere with her life are hampered by unspoken grief about losing touch with her best friend, in a funny and touching film she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach. At first glance, Noah Baumbach's new film Frances Ha, might seem like a tough sell, what with it being a low-key comedy drama shot in black and white, and without much of a plot. But no, it's about the most intelligent and charming bit of fun you could ask for, and clearly the director's most accomplished work up until now. The formula for success consists of Greta Gerwig as the main character, and a deft, perfectly calibrated script by Baumbach and Gerwig herself.
Frances is a 27-year-old apprentice at a New York dance company who barely gets by while sharing an apartment with her best friend from college, Sophie, played by Mickey Sumner. Although it's been five years since she graduated from an upstate New York university, Frances doesn't have much to show for it. She doesn't seem to mind, because her bond with Sophie is so strong and nurturing and fun. Sharply edited scenes of the two friends' daily interactions make that clear. So it's bewildering to Frances, to put it mildly, when Sophie announces she's moving to a different, more expensive apartment with a woman whom Frances thought she didn't like, and moreover, is getting serious about a boyfriend named Patch that she had previously made fun of. Frances is now on her own, trying without much success to find a new place to live, and some sense of what she's going to do with her life, even as the director of the dance company tells her that she's being let go.
Gerwig started out as a mainstay of low-budget indie films and she;s recently appeared in some mainstream studio product as well. She might seem too beautiful at first to play this kind of a hapless loser, but her off-beat mannerisms, and the quirky way she delivers her lines, remove any ideas of glamour you may have. This is an expert creation of a lonely character—Frances is wryly funny, but also has a tendency to say the wrong things at the wrong time, her self-conscious insecurity tying her into knots of her own making.
Baumbach combines a laid-back mood with some jump-cutting effects to keep the audience on its toes—we're never sure what to expect from this person. There's so much funny dialogue in the film—I laughed out loud many times—that it came as a bit of a surprise how bittersweet, how sad really, the picture made me feel. Behind the satiric jabs at the plight of struggling twenty-somethings, and the spot-on hilarious conversations about sex, this is a story about someone losing a connection with her dearest friend. It's not a sexual thing—Frances and Sophie are both straight—but Frances's attachment to her friend extends so deep down into her being, that the severing of that bond produces an ache that pulses through the film. If you've ever had a friend who was more important to you than you were to her, you can relate.
Baumbach's visual style never misses a beat. There were plenty of opportunities for him to mess up, but everything just clicks. Emblematic of this love letter to a character (and to Gerwig herself, for whom some of this is clearly autobiographical) is a scene showing Frances dancing down a New York Avenue to David Bowie's "Modern Love." Frances Ha (the meaning of the title is not revealed until the final few minutes), is never simple, yet the film maintains a light spirit and a clear-eyed gaze.