"Frances Ha" is a diamond in the rough
Writer and director Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” is the story of a girl – who might be classified as “liberal elitist” – navigating life after college. It is a continuation of Mr. Baumbach’s themes of observing educated and culturally oriented people struggling to find identification. Greta Gerwig plays the title role and has a co-writer’s credit. There may be a bit of biographical storytelling going on here and that’s to the film’s credit. The places and scenes that emerge are so lifelike and fraught with novice corollaries that they cannot be far removed from the film writers’ own experiences. However so, it makes for an entertaining movie and Ms. Gerwig is so simple and innocent that we watch hoping she grows up in front of our eyes.
“Frances Ha” was filmed in black and white, a throwback of sorts to when the independent film movement was at its hottest, during the early and mid-nineties – independent films made with shoe-string budgets and maxed out credit cards. The story captures that spirit and the black and white adds to the grittiness. A coming-of-age story would be a poor description since that would mean lessons have been absorbed. That’s a big studio ending. The independent spirit is about the poor souls who get beaten down by life and cannot find any life preservers.
Frances rooms with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). To say they are inseparable would not do their friendship justice. They not only fall asleep in the same bed together but know all of the intricacies of the other. They each give each other such pleasure that there is no reason to take notice of life passing by or the inevitability of maturing. Frances’ relationship with her boyfriend crumbles when she refuses to move in with him. She is worried that she might upset Sophie who she believes wants to renew the lease on their apartment. Not too long after, Sophie informs Frances that she, herself, is moving in with her boyfriend, setting the drama of the film in motion.
Frances is thunderstruck and has to scramble to find new housing. She moves in with Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen) who she meets at a party. While Sophie navigates the waters of young adulthood, Frances refuses to prepare for a future. Instead, she tries to maintain best friend status with Sophie but grows frustrated with Sophie’s other obligations. She focuses on her dancing which brings to mind every parents’ advice about studying law or medicine as a back-up plan for the children majoring in the arts. It’s bad enough that she might not be good enough for her dance company but she’s trying to live her dream through a spiraling economy.
Ms. Gerwig makes Frances endearing. She goes through all her growing pains without submitting to defeat. She’s able to roll with each disappointment. Ms. Gerwig sort of floats through the movie. She gives off a good sense that Frances is just bouncing around and that her friendship with Sophie was the foundation of her life. The cast Mr. Baumbach surrounded her with is raw in an independent film sort of way. The actors add to the grittiness of the film. They are wonderful especially Ms. Sumner and Mr. Driver who have the presence of those living on the previous night’s tip money while trying to be a part of a scene. The rest of the cast follows suit.
“Frances Ha” is a simple story about a simple girl who has to learn about herself. The performances are rustic and add to the look and feel Mr. Baumbach established with his black-and-white photography. It is an original piece of film about an original girl.