In his first film since 2010’s Greenberg, director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) returns with a low-budget and black and white character study that keenly zooms in on a young 27-year-old aspiring dancer by the name of Frances (Greta Gerwig) who can’t seem to get her life together. The film, titled Frances Ha, is a witty and upbeat film that’s not only a timeless portrait of youthful ambition and identity but also serves as a character study that’s intimate in its portrayal of female companionship.
In its central episodic narrative core, Frances Ha is an intimate platonic love story between Frances and her roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). As the film opens, Frances and Sophie playfully fight each other and it’s shortly after this point when the audience understands the close bond between Frances and Sophie could easily be compared to the closeness of a romantic couple. They eat dinner together, they smoke together by a windowsill, they comfortably lay in bed with one another, and they offer insight into each other’s lives and ambitions.
To give you an idea as to exactly how close they are, Frances rejects her boyfriend’s offer to move into an apartment with him because she has plans to renew her lease with Sophie. This rejection leads to a devastatingly awkward breakup, which Frances doesn’t seem to be fazed by all that much. The bad news is that Sophie has other plans in mind when she tells Frances that they won’t be renewing the lease because she has the opportunity to move into a nicer place in Tribeca with her boyfriend Patch. The barely employed Frances cannot possibly afford to live in such a place so the once inseparable pair is forced to split apart.
It’s their separation that sets the rest of the film in motion as Frances is forced to navigate on her own as Sophie slowly drifts further away from her. As Frances moves from place to place, she tries to kick-start her dance career with no success. She temporarily moves into an apartment with hipsters Lev (Girls star Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen), who deem Frances as “undateable”. She crashes at their apartment for a discounted rate. Although she struggles for recognition with the dance company, Frances faces a painful transition from young adult adolescence into an indefinable existence. As she attempts to make this transition, she longs to regain connection with Sophie.
Frances Ha is undoubtedly Noah Baumbach’s best film to date due to its witticism, likeable characters, and upbeat narrative. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach collaborated together on the script and brought the characters to life through their own creative efforts. Hopefully this is just the beginning of their collaboration because they’re certainly doing something right.
Greta Gerwig who is an absolute revelation in this film. Her performance as Frances will hopefully gravitate her into stardom. Like the titular characters in Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg (which co-starred Gerwig), Frances is socially awkward and sometimes off-putting but she is far more kind-hearted and likeable. The likability stems directly from Gerwig’s charming performance. Frances undoubtedly has flaws but is endearing despite of them. Although I’ll praise Gerwig’s performance until the end of time, another standout is Mickey Sumner, who portrays Sophie in the film. Her performance down to her hipster-esque look immediately drew me into the character.
The film is shot beautifully in digital black and white courtesy of cinematographer Sam Levy. More often than not, the look of the film is reminiscent of the Woody Allen classic Manhattan. It’s as if Frances Ha is just Baumbach expressing his inner-Woody Allen because the film manages to blend perfectly constructed comedy with an insightful character study. At first glance, Frances Ha doesn’t seem like a typical Baumbach film. At second glance, you’ll notice a filmmaker in transformation. Frances Ha is not just a great film; it’s a small-scale masterpiece.
Final Rating: 10/10