Movie Review: “Frances Ha” Bustles with a Carefree Exuberance

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Frances Ha (2012)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver and Michael Zegen

Frances Ha is a gem of a movie that I initially put off watching because I had this preconception it was going to be a snooty look at the New York contemporary arts scene from the perspective of an aspiring dancer. Turns out it’s a down to earth, intimate portrait of youth; bustling with a care-free exuberance and a touch of soft aching loneliness.

It could be labelled as a romantic comedy but it really isn’t. Sure, there’s a romanticism to the black and white look of the film. Then there’s Frances’ definition of what love personally means to her but there’s no typical romantic relationship going on here, the closest would be with her platonic best friend Sophie. Most of the comedic elements aren’t laugh out loud either yet’s there’s playful humor in the ironic conversations and the awkwardly amusing situations Frances finds herself in.

“I like things that look like mistakes” is one of many quotable bits of dialogue and coming from Frances, feels entirely true to her character. Frances, you see, is in her late twenties but she doesn’t have her act together. She struggles to pay the rent, wants to be a dancer but can’t make a living at it and knowingly makes poor financial decisions.

Flaws in all, Frances feels like a real living, breathing person and a big reason is because of Greta Gerwig’s wonderful performance. Gerwig makes everything feel spontaneous, as if the things she says and does are happening in that very moment, even if it’s possibly her twentieth take.

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Another compelling aspect is that Frances is a refreshing character. There’s something to be said for Frances’ self worth, which is not in any way defined by the man in her life or her sexual proclivities. Both of these aspects don’t come into play as the movie’s first scene with dialogue starts out with Frances breaking up with her boyfriend.

Sometimes to take a step forward in life you first have to take two steps back as is the case with Frances. Much of the film depicts her stumbling and regressing (literally and figuratively) so when the movie quickly wraps things up at the end it’s a little hard to reconcile at first. But it’s not that Frances lives happily ever after.  As the jokey title of the movie suggests, Frances Ha is not quite a complete person yet; she’s just another step closer.

Director/Co-writer Noah Baumbach is known for collaborating with Wes Anderson on fanciful films such as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. However, rather than taking an idiosyncratic approach, Baumbach grounds this movie in realism, making this coming of age tale during an economic downturn that much more relatable.

On occasion, Baumbach’s screenplay highlights the economic disparities between the working class and the wealthy using witty quips. In one instance, after Sophie scopes out her friend’s apartment she causally comments that “The only people who can afford to be artists in New York are rich.”

Frances Ha

There may be many reasons why Frances Ha will not appeal to everyone. Though it’s digitally shot and then transferred to black and white, the colorless look of the movie can put some people off. There may be many who’ll find Frances too flawed to be likable and some may be dissatisfied with the quick conclusion. But if you watch this movie with an open mind and can embrace the characters along with their imperfections, Frances Ha could be a delightful gem for you too.

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