Review: 'Frances Ha'


Noah Baumbach deals in fucked-up people. Kids of divorce, neurotic man-children, unstable artists. He speaks their language. And this film is no exception. Shot in black and white, which almost seems unfair because of the old-timey nostalgia it effortlessly invokes, Frances Ha is Baumbach's latest look at unsure, wayward souls. It stars his latest muse (and girlfriend) Greta Gerwig as the titular Frances, a dancer in New York City who longs to make something of herself professionally while keeping her social life in an overly comfortable stasis. As her friends enter into seemingly flawed relationships or try to nail anything that moves, it's hard to say if Frances's lack of progress is right or wrong. But while everyone else keeps moving, Frances stands still. She fears change and presents a sturdy wall of casual indifference whenever anyone new tries to get close. "Undateable" becomes a standing joke between Frances and her friends, but she wears it like a suit of armor. It's easy to compare Frances Ha and Girls, and not only because Adam Silver appears in both. For one thing, both leads are well-to-do white girls who prove difficult to like. But while Lena Dunham undercuts Hannah's self-deprecation with an underlying reassurance that everything will be OK, Frances Ha offers a more detailed look at its titular character's tumble into reality. It isn't until Frances is forced to evacuate New York City for the barren wasteland of Poughkeepsie that she comes to terms with her limitations and sets her sights on a slightly different but ultimately rewarding road. And it's to Baumbach's (and Gerwig's) credit that we stay with her along the way. Anyone else less adept at handling these types of characters would've lost us long ago. Like Ben Stiller in Greenberg and Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale before her, Gerwig's Frances is powerfully annoying yet oddly charming. Some of her decisions will beg for a fist through the TV, but they always fit her character. She's the kind of person who feels a sense of accomplishment just for summoning the courage to start a tough conversation. The stakes are never high, so you feel like she sort of deserves everything that goes wrong. Or, at least, that it's inevitable. You can see why people would be drawn to her, and then why most of them would begrudgingly move on. Baumbach plows through several years of her life, opening each new chapter by indicating Frances's

current address. This is usually used (with great success) to indicate how far she's plummeted down the social pipeline, which makes for a great victory when you finally see New York, New York once more in front of that black background. She's made it, again, kind of. But by then, that's enough. In the end, Frances accepts that she may not be suited for stardom, and unblinking support from her friends indicates they'd always guessed the same (and liked her anyway). Baumbach is known to end his movies with little victories: either someone breaks through the muddle or they find another person who understands. Frances ends up a bit of both; still confused, but on some sort of path and willing to resume connecting with human beings. For most people, that's certainly the first step.