Sydney Film Festival – Frances Ha review

Frances Ha

By Simon Miraudo
June 15, 2013

I’ll enjoy Greta Gerwig in quite anything – even that Arthur remake – and I’m discovering that the same goes for Adam Driver, of Girls (and one particularly uncomfortable sex scene) fame. So, director Noah Baumbach wasn’t fighting an uphill battle with this particular viewer of Frances Ha. His previous efforts had left a bad taste in my mouth; them being just a little too acidic compared to contemporaries Wes Anderson and the Duplass brothers. Mercifully, Frances Ha is not just good because of the pedigree of its cast. A frank and very funny tale of female friendship, it finds just the right balance between bitter and sweet, and makes me glad someone had previously coined the term ‘bittersweet’ for use in instances just like this. That said, Gerwig did co-write the script with Baumbach, so her magic touch can’t be totally discounted.

Gerwig stars as the title character; a 27-year-old would-be dancer enjoying her aimless existence with BFF Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in New York. When Sophie’s life begins to advance in the traditional ways – her relationship with boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger) becomes more serious; her life choices more drastic – Frances considers it a personal affront, and the duo splinters. Desperately seeking surrogates, she latches onto roommates Lev (Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen), before attempting to mimic the lives of her more successful acquaintances, and eventually returning to college as an resident assistant in an attempt to … relive her glory days? They don’t seem that glorious from where we’re sitting.

Frances Ha

In one of the more amusing digressions – and this is a film full of them, happy as it is to amble from one vignette to the next – Frances travels to France on a whim. Only recently alerted to the fact that being 27 basically makes her an adult, she realises that flying to exotic locations is precisely what adults do. It’s a task, however, she takes on in the least responsible manner; taking off for just a weekend, funding it entirely on her first ever credit card, and accidentally dosing herself with Xanax and sleeping through much of her whirlwind tour. This is how a flibbertigibbet like Frances counters people her age having babies and getting engaged. It’s like when a child tries on their parents clothing to make them look all fancy. The results are often the opposite.

Baumbach makes the bold decision to shoot his picture in black-and-white; any B&W feature filmed in New York is going to draw comparisons with Gordon Willis’ superlative work on Manhattan, and often not favourable ones. Yet, Sam Levy’s cinematography is divine. The pace, and performances, likewise. Gerwig has long deserved her chance to shine, and she finally, finally, finally gets her moment. Even as an occasionally exasperating and emotionally arrested character like Frances, she remains affable and compelling. Her talents as a screenwriter are similarly remarkable. She softens Baumbach’s edges, yet carries over the insight that she debuted in 2007’s Hannah Takes the Stairs (which she wrote for Joe Swanberg). Frances Ha is a sympathetic but not uncritical depiction of a girl’s gradual evolution into a woman; one that never condescends by forcing her to abandon all her quirks and impish qualities in the final act. Frances gets to stay true to herself, and the movie gets to stay true to itself. An absolute delight, this is.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Frances Ha played the Sydney Film Festival. It arrives in Australian cinemas August 15, 2013.

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