Director: Noah Baumbach; Cast: Greta Gerwig, MIckey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen; Running time: 86 minutes; Certification: 15
Frances (Gerwig) is a free spirit with her head in the clouds. As she tries to pursue her dream to be a professional dancer, her personal life goes through the motions of break-ups with boyfriends, best friends and apartments.
Director Noah Baumach’s previous picture, the impressive Greenberg starring Ben Stiller, was a sweet, warm and touching story of a man lost in social purgatory. Much of that warmth is brought to his latest outing; enough to give you a satisfactory and believable journey through a young New Yorker’s tumultuous life, but somewhere along the way it leaks away through the thin insulation of Gerwig’s title character Frances, and we’re left clutching for more layers.
There’s an immediate resemblance to Kevin Smith’s excellent Clerks; not just because it’s shot in black and white (or at least coloured black and white in post), but the way in which the characters react with one another. The relationships are written and performed with stark verisimilitude, the extremely down to earth, racy dialogue sounds genuine, particularly between Frances and her best friend Sophie, and the cute, quirky way in which they seem to glide through life, seemingly unphased by the constant feeling that they’re trapped in the moment and can’t find the door out plays out wonderfully. In these areas the film works and wins us over. It’s cute, loveable.
Yet it leaves you with a chill. Frances’ ditsy stubborness, while funny and a bit adorable at first, grows wearisome. There’s almost too much of it, too much head in the clouds and careless wonder that by the end we just want her to get real. Not everything can be a dream. She spends the entire film complaining (or worrying) about money and the lack of a proper apartment, but when she actually gets offered a decent job at her dance company, she refuses because a desk job is “below her”. I get that’s who her character is; it’s supposed to be pride, I think, mixed with a dab of naivety, but it just annoyed the pants off me.
Half of me loved the fun, quirky, extremely indie side of Frances Ha, the side that owes a debt to the likes of Clerks and Greenberg, but the other half was left feeling rather hollow. It always has good intentions, and there are laughs aplenty, but core sympathetic angle lies on a just not very likable title character. Warm in spirit, cold in resonance