By Don Simpson | May 30, 2013
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Michael Esper, Charlotte d’Amboise, Grace Gummer, Justine Lupe, Patrick Heusinger, Christine Gerwig, Gordon Gerwig, Britta Phillips, Juliet Rylance, Josh Hamilton, Dean Wareham, Maya Kazan, Serena Longley
Frances (Greta Gerwig) seems destined to be utterly undateable but forever quotable. Like a cinematic incarnation of the protagonist of The Smiths’ “Unloveable,” Frances may seem a little strange and she does not have much in her life. Her friends continue to point out that she is undateable, but Frances does not need to be reminded of her solitary relationship status. You see, Frances is an optimist; she lives her life with blind confidence that things will eventually fall into place for her. Until then, Frances will randomly play the cards that she is dealt by the gods of stream of consciousness, tirelessly dancing the dance of life.
Lacking the trust funds or high-dollar income of her twentysomething peers in New York City, Frances considers herself to be poor. Regardless, she still finds ways to live in nice apartments of uniquely impeccable character. At 27-years-old, Frances is told that she looks older but acts younger than her age. She enjoys a childishly intimate-yet-platonic friendship (like an old sexless lesbian couple) with her BFF, Sophie (Mickey Sutton). Frances wants everyone to understand that she is not messy, she is just too busy to clean. Tall and awkward, Frances walks like a man. Her phone doesn’t do email and her computer doesn’t do Skype. Frances was born to be a non-conformist and a walking contradiction.
If Frances is certain of one thing, it is that she wants to become a professional dancer. Thus far, Frances has only been able to score a position as an apprentice with a financially-struggling company. While Frances’ mentor tries to steer her towards choreography, her true talent, Frances grows increasingly stubborn. Even when she is laid-off by the dance company, Frances’ confidence that she will become a great dancer never wavers. Dance is a career of precision and grace, yet Frances is anything but precise or graceful in her movements. Frances understands that her dance moves are imperfect; to her that does not matter, she revels in the imperfections of dance just as she frolics among the bruising blemishes of life.
A certain kind of magic was captured in the 1960s by the French New Wave, one that temporarily transformed cinema into a playful art form. I would not necessarily claim that Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha is like a French New Wave film, but it does share a similar magical joy. The keenly-scribed dialogue rolls from the characters’ tongues with the sparkling effervescence of a Ernst Lubitsch comedy, while Greta Gerwig’s physical gags conjure up the glory days of slapstick. One of the true highlights of Frances Ha is a propulsive running-dance sequence choreographed to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” which recalls Jason Krupnick’s Girl Walk: All Day with a tip of the hat to Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang.
While Baumbach has frequently revealed a fascination with “undateable” female protagonists who seem to dance to their own beat, Frances Ha is unlike anything he’s ever done. First and foremost, there is not a bitter, sardonic or jaded moment in this film. We witness the gorgeously lensed (Sam Levy) black and white universe through Frances’ rose colored glasses. Surprisingly for a film that is so relentlessly positive, the tone of Frances Ha never gets annoying or old. During its 86-minute run time, Frances Ha flips the flaws of this world upside down, revealing the amazements and joys of life. They just don’t make movies like this one anymore.