Starring Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner. Rated 14A.
Writer-director Noah Baumbach, who made the perfect autobiography of neurotic boyhood in The Squid and the Whale, yields to an XX-rated sensibility in Frances Ha, which was written with its star, Greta Gerwig.
Gerwig, the young Woody Allen veteran previously featured in Baumbach’s Greenberg, plays the title character, whose stumpy last name is only explained in the final frame of a film that presents her as a heartbreakingly lovable, if sometimes annoying, young figure. Frances is determined to be a dancer and choreographer, although she has yet to find either her métier or a stable place to live.
That last bit is because her best pal and long-time Brooklyn roommate (Mickey Sumner) has landed both a guy and a better neighbourhood. Frances has some reasonably big dreams, but mostly she eats ice cream and watches old movies with her new roomies, played by TV regulars Michael Zegen and Adam Driver.
The film’s black-and-white, whimsical sensibility suggests François Truffaut by way of Woody Allen, which is sort of a redundancy, because the French new wave thing was so thoroughly absorbed by the To Rome With Love director. Here, Baumbach emulates the spirit, not just the form, of those movies, with long, ecstatic tracking shots and a compassionate eye for the foibles of human behaviour. (Kudos to cinematographer Sam Levy and editor Jennifer Lame in both those regards.) So his more literal references, such as lifting musical cues from The 400 Blows, feel well earned—not like stunts but like affectionate reminders of cinema’s former impact.
Some viewers may lose patience with Gerwig’s self-sabotaging character, who does takes a long time to pull it together. But if Frances Ha doesn’t make you think and feel something about the roads not taken in your twenties, maybe you haven’t actually faced them yet.