Review: Frances Ha (2013)

Directed by – Noah Baumbach
Written by – Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
Starring – Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Charlotte d’Ambiose, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Patrick Heusinger, Maya Kazan & Josh Hamilton

Watching this film I had an epiphany; I am Frances Halladay. Alright, so I’m not American, I’m not a dancer and I’m not a woman but if we ignore these minor details then I totally am Frances Halladay. I struggle with responsibility, I can’t settle down, I wish I was more artistic than I am and I never stick to a schedule. I’m impulsive, I make daft decisions and I often feel like everyone I know is changing, growing and evolving while I’m still stuck in the same rut that I’ve been in since I was about thirteen.

Directed and written by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) and starring the delightful Greta Gerwig (Lola Versus, To Rome with Love), Frances Ha is – at least on paper – a film that I really should hate in every conceivable way. It tells the story of a New York dancer who dawdles through life, fails to settle down, is narcissistic, solipsistic and weird and converses with a bunch of pretentious wankers along the way. After a while, Frances’ life starts to change through no fault of her own as, one-by-one, her friends enter into relationships, move away and abandon their immaturity in order to become *shudder* adults. To paraphrase a popular Carly Simon song, I’m so vain I sort of think this film is about me…

Ahem, anyway… So basically, Frances Ha is a pretentious, insular, navel-gazing film that has nothing to say about the real World. And yet, for some reason, I think it’s just marvellous. This is primarily down to a performance from Greta Gerwig that is simply mesmerising. Her character is bitter, spiteful, jealous, nasty and immensely irritating, yet in the same moment she’s charismatic, genuine, warm and funny and Gerwig captures all of these emotions so effortlessly, almost as though she isn’t really acting. The people she meets along the way are meant to be the likable, responsible ones yet Frances is such a lovable (in spite of herself) person that we feel obliged to take her side, even when she’s at her most unreasonably rotten. Despite all of her flaws, Frances is a kind-hearted young woman who is simply trying to find meaning in the World and that, irrespective of setting, is something we can all relate to.

With input from Gerwig, who appears to know Frances like the back of her hand, the film’s screenplay dazzles with wit, dark humour and drama. It’s not a heavy film, nor is it the type of film that will change your outlook on life or make you want to up sticks and become a dancer / choreographer in New York City, but it is a film that has a fundamental understanding of a certain type of person. It’s middle-class, it’s insular and it’s obviously out-of-touch with the realities of modern living, yet it displays an empathy with the type of wanker who watches art-house films, reads classic literature, enjoys modern art and is inept when it comes to holding down a job…

Frances Ha - 2013

Of course, if that’s all Frances Ha did then even I – a proud, paid-up member of its target audience – would soon grow to hate it but it has much more to offer than a middle-class circle jerk of self-doubt. At its heart, Frances Ha is a film all about friendship and loyalty. The relationships Frances has with each of the people she meets are strangely affecting, partly because we know she’ll be moving on soon enough but also because they’re so complicated. We all know what it’s like to see friends drift away, and I’m sure we’ve all felt that ping of jealousy and hatred when a love interest swoops in to steal your best friend away from you, and Frances Ha offers a stark but humorous analysis of the effect that such events can have on a person, particularly one as fragile as Frances Halladay.

At just shy of 90 minutes, Frances Ha is the perfect feel-good film. Shot in monochrome and drenched in dazzling cinematography, this is an art-lovers film with a pure heart that tells an everyday story. Gerwig dazzles as Frances and gives the film its soul, while Baumbach’s screenplay will make you laugh almost as much as it might make you cry. Despite its solemn undertones, Frances Ha is an optimistic and charming film that it’s all but impossible not to fall in love with.

It’s rare that I use this word to describe anything, least of all a film, but ultimately Frances Ha is… well, it’s just “lovely”. And that, by the way, is a damn good thing.

★★★★

Review also posted on Letterboxd

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