MRR Review: "Frances Ha"
on 2013-05-28 16:00
MRR Review: "Frances Ha"
-- Rating: R (sexual content, language)
Length: 86 minutes
Release date: May 17, 2013
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach's latest creation manages to be charming and witty without generating the usual backlash of cynicism so commonly suffered by upbeat indie movies. Audiences love Frances (Greta Gerwig, "Hannah Takes the Stairs") despite her flighty and irresponsible ways and embrace Baumbach's vision of the Big Apple. It's an accurate tribute to the best New York has to offer the young and impressionable.
Frances flits through the city like a small bird, leaving an imprint wherever she lands but not getting caught up in her stops along the way. She has a decidedly Californian flair and refuses to take life very seriously-or rather, she refuses to see life as it is. This lands her in one pickle after the next, though her prevailing positivity lifts her spirit up out of her troubles even when she's up to her neck in them.
People who act like Frances in real life are often a drain on their friends, because the constant troubles are exhausting for people who notice them. That's a large part of the draw of this movie. Audiences would love to be able to tap into that blissful ignorance Frances enjoys. They're envious of her ability to wish her troubles away without the world completely falling apart around her, or at least without minding too much when it happens.
Unfortunately, when her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner, "The Borgias"), decides to move on, Frances is left without a safety net. She unwittingly sets off on an adventure full of mistakes and missed opportunities, bouncing from one apartment to the next and meeting a slew of new people along the way.
To those who haven't already been through the process of growing up-particularly those who've been left behind while watching their friends move into responsible lives-"Frances Ha" is a coming-of-age film of sorts. Our main character is the freest of free spirits but, like the audience, is also a slave to time. At age twenty-seven, Frances doesn't have a stable job, a relationship, or even a permanent place to live. Her life spins out of control, and as she begins to be affected by those choices more and more, she also matures and learns to deal with life and its responsibilities on her own.
For a Baumbach film, "Frances Ha" is surprisingly upbeat. This may be due to Gerwig's influence, both as cowriter and as the director's love interest. Gerwig was already a star of independent films from her first major role in Joe Swanberg's "Hannah Takes the Stairs," and she ran into Baumbach in 2010 while filming "Greenberg." The duo came together to create what many fans consider a landmark film in Baumbach and Gerwig's careers.
This is not to say that there aren't similarities between "Frances Ha" and previous projects. "Hannah Takes the Stairs," for instance, centers on a young woman living in New York after college. Gerwig's characters in each of these films face some of the same emotional challenges.
Noah Baumbach has been a prolific filmmaker since the mid-'90s and has fifteen writing credits and twelve directorial roles to his name. While they run the gamut from kids' animation films to stints working for "Saturday Night Live," the majority of his career has been spent on emerging adult issues. The time between childhood and real adulthood can be rife with conflict. With his work on "Frances Ha," however, it appears Baumbach may have begun to work his own demons out.
Audiences approve. Instead of the twisting angst present in many of his earlier works, "Frances Ha" is full of upbeat charm and is likely to leave viewers sporting smiles. The end of the movie offers up a sweet and surprising reunion between two friends who, though they will never have what they did in the past, will always have a special bond that neither time nor maturity will break.
The story of "Frances Ha" is a winner, but the film wouldn't have gone far without the right cast. Gerwig plays a seamless version of Frances, though she purportedly isn't much like her character in real life. This makes perfect sense, of course, since she helped create the character. Sumner doesn't appear often onscreen, but in the shots where she's present, she shows the audience what Frances sees in Sophie. The chemistry between the two women feels real enough to encourage viewers to search for old friends on Facebook.
A number of secondary characters pop up throughout the story and leave their marks. Rachel (Grace Gummer, "The House of the Spirits") is the quintessential perfectionist who feels responsible enough to offer her friendly acquaintance a place to stay but isn't tolerant enough to enjoy it. Adam Driver and Michael Zegen delight as twenty-something roommates bent on meeting girls and spending all their parents' money.
Overall, the story, cast, and directing style combine to create a fun and uplifting movie about the struggle to become an adult. Audiences love the hopeful feel of "Frances Ha." The response may be enough to start a trend all its own.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars