There are so many good things about Frances Ha, the latest film from Noah Baumbach, that it’s hard to know where to start. The film privileges character over action in what is a simple yet utterly delightful examination of friendship that never becomes maudlin or overly sentimental. The film possesses charm and mirth in spades and is a thoroughly enjoyable experience on every level. With a terrific performance from Greta Gerwig as the titular character, the film soars from beginning to end as 27-year-old Frances bumbles her way through life with an air of positivity and optimism that doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of the situations in which she finds herself.
Shot in black and white – which only adds to the charm – Frances Ha opens with a vignette in which we meet Frances and her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) as they simply enjoy their life together in New York. The two girls do everything together and Frances even rejects an offer of co-habitation from her boyfriend to stay with Sophie. However, unfortunately for Frances, Sophie suddenly decides to move out and this sets the story in motion as Frances embarks on a journey – both literal and metaphorical – to find a place to live and her place in the world. When she moves in with Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen) she seems to have landed on her feet until she loses her job as a dancer and can no longer afford to pay her share of the rent.
With Sophie seemingly drifting away due to the demands of her job and boyfriend-cum-fiancé Patch (Patrick Heusinger), Frances journeys to California to see her parents (played by Gerwig’s real life parents) before accepting a job, albeit a short term one – at the college from which she graduated several years earlier. Upon returning to New York, Frances secures temporary accommodation with fellow dancer Rachel (Grace Gummer) and, despite her dwindling resources, makes an impulsive decision to spend a weekend in Paris that, like so much in Frances’ life up to this point, does not turn out as planned. Gerwig imbues the character with so much charm that is impossible not to love Frances: her tribulations are presented with moments of wry humour, coupled with bursts of slapstick physicality (such as Frances’ attempt to find an ATM) that work a treat.
Baumbach’s previous films (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg) have been insightful and well made, but have featured characters that are, for the most part, somewhat unlikeable. Despite the fact that her life does seem so utterly off kilter, Frances takes it all in her stride with a cheery disposition that, perhaps, conceals a growing sense of dread and uncertainty. This is easily Baumbach’s ‘happiest’ film to date, with Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach, bringing charm and energy to the lead role. Sumner (daughter of Sting) also impresses as Sophie and the supporting cast are all fine. The music is fantastic, with the likes of David Bowie and Hot Chocolate used with remarkably good effect.
There are some distinct resemblances between this film and Lena Dunham’s equally impressive television show Girls, which also combines humour and pathos in examining the struggles of young women trying to find their place in the heady world of contemporary New York. Whilst it is unfair to compare the two because they are both highly enjoyable in their own right with enough differences to stand alone, there is no doubt that Frances possesses a more optimistic outlook than any of the Girls girls. Frances Ha is a terrific film that celebrates the importance of friendship, perhaps over everything else, as the relationship between Frances and Sophie endures through it all despite the fact that the latter enjoys all the trappings – successful career, stable relationship etc – that Frances lacks.