What It's About
On the surface, "Frances Ha" seems like a Woody Allen-inspired episode of HBO's "Girls." Writer-director Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale") has teamed with his muse, indie actress Greta Gerwig (also co-writer), for a fresh take on finding your place in the world.
The directionless Frances (Gerwig) is a good-hearted yet kooky 27-year-old struggling to get her act together. An aspiring modern dancer, she sets off on a journey of self-discovery after her Brooklyn roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner -- Sting's daughter) moves in with her boyfriend.
Frances occupies a series of NYC apartments, visits her hometown of Sacramento, and even has a whirlwind sojourn to Paris. Drama follows her wherever she goes.
A modern portrait of a generational anxiety, females who tend to over-think things, and that nerve-wracking fault line between youth and adulthood, "Frances Ha" is a series of sweet, funny, and painful moments that everyone can identify with -- an honest look at our character foibles.
Gerwig ("To Rome With Love") is a natural actress -- without obnoxious affectations. And because she co-wrote this script, she identifies deeply with this complicated character who states: "I'm not a real person yet."
The supporting players are a typical mix of young neurotic New Yorkers, with Adam Driver of "Girls" one of the beaus and Meryl Streep's daughter, Grace Gummer. in a prima donna dancer role. The relationships connecting everyone are genuine, especially Mickey Sumner as Frances' best friend from college, the self-absorbed aspiring writer Sophie. Gerwig's own parents hilariously play Frances' mother and father.
Sam Levy's black-and-white photography adds texture to the coming-of-age story -- sure it's a nod to the iconic Woody Allen film "Manhattan," but also an homage to the French New Wave.
The hipster vibe is obvious for its twentysomething target audience, but "Frances Ha" also effectively taps into our insecurities. How to overcome failure is a lesson here, as plucky Frances keeps picking herself up.
The writing is very clever, and rooted in real-people dialogue. Frances defines herself: "I'm not messy, I'm busy."
With her tousled blond mop-top and harried persona, Frances may be ditzy but you root for her to keep getting back up. And you'll have David Bowie's "Modern Love" stuck in your head afterward (and maybe have the urge to sprint down the street to your own soundtrack).
What Doesn't Work
There is no deep and profound revelation here. There isn't much of a story. You must fill in the blanks during the episodic structure. It does look like a home movie or at least a film student's final project.
But the film feels real, not a figment of youngsters' imaginations who haven't maneuvered any rocky patches as yet, or a focus group wanting to put Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson in the part.
3 out of 4 stars
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Mickey Sumner, Grace Gummer
Rated: R for sexual references and language