Bad reviews write themselves. Good ones are much harder. Noah Baumbach’s latest, Frances Ha, the story of a young woman in search of her place in life definitely falls in the latter.
The creation of Baumbach’s collaborative work with the ever surprising and refreshing Greta Gerwig, Frances is not your average heroin. As she describes it herself, explaining what she does is not that easy, because she doesn’t really do it. Wannabe dancer, though she remains a forever-apprentice, and sharing dreams of fame and grandeur with her best friend and roommate Sophie, Frances doesn’t have her life together, not at all. At twenty-seven, she’s feeling more and more like she should, but figuring out what it is that you want to do, and even more so doing it, is not that easy. So when Sophie, the only stable part of her life, announces she is moving in with another friend and decides to take her relationship with her boyfriend to the next level, Frances has but herself to fall back on, which is to say, not a lot.
Brilliant portrait of what it feels like to be lost at an age where everybody is getting their life sorted out, Frances Ha is by far not the depressing tale this short synopsis makes it sound. On the contrary, and to the credit of both its writers, the movie is everything but sad. Light without ever being superficial, Frances’s story is beautiful even in its most tragic instants.
Although it will undeniably invite comparison with Woody Allen’s masterpiece Manhattan, and though few are the movies who, like Allen’s, captured so masterfully the ups and downs of New York’s inhabitants, Frances Ha not only does not suffer the analogy but might even come out with the upper hand.
Baumbach and Gerwig’s writing is a carefully-oiled mix of wit and realism, which never lurks towards the navel-gazing, self-pitying tone which characterised Baumbach’s previous features. Frances Ha is desperately funny, and while its protagonist’s life falls apart, Baumbach’s film never fails to make one smile even as it proceeds to tear its protagonist’s heart apart.
With a finesse ever so rare in a contemporary comedic landscape which often sacrifices sympathy and realism to laughter, Baumbach’s camera gazes at Frances’s messy life with a compassionate though never-mocking look. Reinforced by Sam Levy’s gorgeous black and white cinematography, Gerwig gives her best performance to date surrounded by a tremendous cast who brings life to Frances’s story.
In the midst of this summer’s action-packed blockbusters, Frances Ha not only feels like a welcome breath of fresh air, but reminds you why we all still go to the movies; to cry, to laugh, to do both at the same time, to fall in love, to get our hearts broken, to dream and to be transported. If you watch only one movie this summer, forget the destructive feats of the man of steel and his fellow metallic robot friends and make it Frances Ha.