FRANCES HA (2012)
Running Time: 86 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Noah Baumbach
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Charlotte d’Amboise, Grace Gummer, Daiva Deupree, Isabelle McNally, Justine Lupe, Lindsay Burdge, Patrick Heusinger, Marina Squerciati
Among the self-help books that flood the marketplace annually are a number that concentrate on happiness, not necessarily how to achieve this state of contentment or bliss, but an analysis of people of different ages. Surprisingly, the ones I’ve read note that folks in their twenties are the least happy while those in the seventies are flourishing. While it’s easy to look around the hip neighborhoods of New York and see the camaraderie of twenty-somethings, you must remember that this is the time of life that tests people both in the job market and in social contacts. Young people can feel awfully lonely if good friends go astray, travel well out of the neighborhood, or simply dump current beaus when others beckon more loudly.
It must be especially rough on people like Frances (Greta Gerwig) who in Noah Baumbach’s FRANCES HA is so self-deprecating that we wonder whether jokey comments about herself are true rather than expressive of humility. She’s a dancer, but kind-of, meaning that in the New York school that finds her occasionally teaching others the steps, whether ballet or modern dance, the director considers her not good enough to take part in the fund-raising Christmas show. Her parents in Sacramento whom she visits had put her through college but now that Frances is twenty-seven and without a steady job, they are unable to help her out. She rooms with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), whose huge, round glasses frame the face of a person almost as awkward/geeky as Frances. Frances’ heart drops when Sophie announces that she’s moving out just when Frances expects them to renew the lease on the Brooklyn digs—just one example of the kinds of disappointments that can set young people into depression for weeks.
Baumbach, whose best movie THE SQUID & THE WHALE deals with the effect of parental divorce on two young men from Brooklyn, films FRANCES HA in black and white to cast a mood of nostalgia and perhaps to exude the urban rhythms of a Woody Allen. He is favored by a gifted actress in Greta Gerwig, who had held her own against Ben Stiller in Baumbach’s GREENBERG, there as Florence helping Roger with the family dog. Here she is expected to cat-sit for a guy who wants her to move in with him—but who may just throw her overboard when he returns from a trip.
FRANCES HA boasts quite a bit of editing, some scenes lasting under a minute, giving the film a look of life lived at certain peak moments. The sharp dialogue which Gerwig co-wrote with the director is happily scripted rather than improvised. One can only wonder how many takes Baumbach required to give the script the feeling of spontaneity.
As Frances, Gerwig makes us root for her despite her awkwardness and bad choices—among which is her trip to Paris for just two nights when she has virtually no money and can’t pay her two male roommates the $1200 a month rent for a large apartment near Chinatown. We like her despite her need to call herself undateable, which she does a couple of times too often. Her experiences may well parrot those of hip twenty-something urbanites, giving the movie special appeal to that demographic, or at least to those hungry for off-beat originality in films. Some bright pop and rock tunes accompany Frances’ journey toward self-realization.
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