Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper
Directed by: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”)
Written by: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) and Greta Gerwig (“Hannah Takes the Stairs”)
It might be your natural intuition to laugh a little at Frances (Greta Gerwig), the cute-as-a-button and generally goofy title character of filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s (“The Squid and the Whale”) black and white independent comedy “Frances Ha,” but you really should be laughing with her. At 27, she doesn’t have life figure out just yet, but she’s having fun fumbling it up.
And so goes Baumbach’s carefree character piece, which was co-written by his star and real-life significant other Gerwig. Without Gerwig, a bona fide indie darling who started her career with mumblecore films like “LOL” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” a character like Frances might be able to exist, but it definitely wouldn’t glisten as much as the naturalistic Gerwig does in the role. It would be like Natalie Portman trying too hard to be hip in “Garden State” – awkward enough but lacking any realism.
Instead, Gerwig drives “Frances Ha” into a place where very clever and high-spirited dialogue prevails. Say what you will about Baumbach (some detractors would call him a bit of a misanthrope in the way he writes characters), but Frances is a lot different than a neurotic Nicole Kidman in 2007’s “Margot at the Wedding” or an apathetic Ben Stiller in 2010’s “Greenberg.” Frances loves life. She just can’t get her footing. She’s miserable, but watching each misstep only makes you want to hug her and make everything better.
Some viewers will still mistake Baumbach and Gerwig’s well-written wit as pretentious prose, but there are a lot worse quirky indie wannabe attempts that have recently tried to do the same (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” “Restless,” “The Art of Getting By”). Directors/writers like Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, and Jay and Mark Duplass do it well, and Baumbach should easily fit into that group of unique storytellers that usually get it right.
In “Frances,” you can see the affection Baumbach and Gerwig have for the character. She is a New York City dance apprentice who is thrown for a loop when her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) decides to move out of their apartment with little notice. To top it off, Frances’s career as a modern dancer isn’t working out as well as she would like.
Unlike many of those films where annoying hipsters are trying to find themselves through their art, Frances doesn’t need your pity. Actually, she is going to be just fine, which is why she’s so likeable. She doesn’t brood or feel sorry for herself much. She’s silly. Her friends say she’s “undateable,” which only makes her even more dateable. She’s a diamond in the rough. Well, maybe not a diamond, but a really shiny rock that stands out. In an industry that has forgotten how to write full-fledged female characters, that’s saying a lot.