Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Summer, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen
Producer: Noah Baumbach, Oscar Boyson, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lila Yacob
Running Time: 86 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I'd hoped to watch Frances Ha just before the end of the year as it has proved popular with critics since its release so I thought it might have a chance of slipping into my top 10 of 2013 list, which should shortly be revealed along with those of the rest of Blueprint: Review's contributors. Well, I managed to squeeze it in just after it turned 2014 and I haven't posted my list yet, but I think Frances Ha will just miss out after all.
Greta Gerwig stars as Frances, a 27 year old attempting to live her dream life in New York, attempting being the operative word. She is living in the big apple as she wanted but doesn't have her own apartment. She wants to be a dancer but the best she can do is work as an apprentice for a dance company. She also just got dumped by her boyfriend as she didn't want to move the relationship to the next level and move in with him. Nevertheless she is always happy when she's with Sophie (Mickey Summer) with whom she shares a child-like friendship full of fun and games. That is until Sophie moves away and begins a serious relationship with old flame Patch. Frances' zealous lust for life keeps her happily jumping from apartment to apartment regardless of her situation, but cracks gradually appear in her fantasy world as she does her best to avoid facing reality and the perceived notion of 'adulthood'.
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Frances Ha for the first half of the film. I found the lead character simultaneously annoying and endearing and couldn't quite decide whether I hated her or not. I certainly wasn't a fan of many of her friends. Reading about the film before I saw it I'd heard criticism about people not warming to the 'hipsters' and such populating it (including Frances herself), and I see what they mean. The 'bohemian in the big city' lifestyle never really appealed to me and I often find those that live it (those that fit the stereotype of course) to be pretentious, self centred and inherently annoying. It's one of the reasons I don't get on with a number of the French New Wave titles too. I just don't enjoy watching people arse around in cafés and bars discussing art and philosophy without ever really 'doing' anything. It must be the Yorkshireman in me.
Frances Ha didn't venture too far into that territory though and did win me over eventually. Gerwig is a big reason for this. Her performance can feel a bit forced, but it fits the character and once you get used to her quirks it's easy to fall in love with her. The film is also packed with witticisms, keeping things light and fun even if it isn't laugh out loud hilarious. You can see where the film is going from the opening couple of scenes - I wanted to shake some sense into Frances about 5 minutes in, but it gets away with it as it's all done so deftly with plenty of humour and just enough pathos to make you care about her troubles.
The film looks and plays out like a 90's indie movie in style and performance which gives it a curiously dated feel. At first it feels like it's trying too hard to be cool and being shot in black and white it smacks of film school pretension, but given the subject matter and nature of the lead character it works perfectly. It's almost like we're watching the world through Frances' eyes. She still views life like she's living this cool New York lifestyle when in actuality she's quite alone and barely hanging on.
So, although it took a while for the film to grow on me and it won't quite trouble my list of favourite films of the year, I still very much enjoyed Frances Ha and found much to admire in its depiction of a young woman struggling to take that next step in her life. Perhaps a second viewing without the hype or initial distrust in its characters will raise it further in my favour.
Frances Ha is released on 6th January on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK by Metrodome. I received a rough early screener so can't comment on the picture quality or the special features.