Allie Tollaksen | Monday, September 9, 2013
“I’m sorry. I’m not a real person yet,” Frances, played by the impeccable Greta Gerwig, says in the beginning of “Frances Ha.” Though she is apologetically telling this to a waiter to explain why her debit card isn’t working, this line serves as probably the most honest and accurate description of the film’s protagonist. Yet this moment is not a turning point in the film, it is instead one of the many subtle (and funny) ways that “Frances Ha” tells a seemingly grown woman’s coming-of-age story.
“Frances Ha,” written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach and directed by Baumbach, is a dialogue-heavy, plot-light look into the world of 27-year-old unsuccessful dancer Frances Halladay as she tries to navigate through her life in New York.
The film begins with a heartwarming and hysterical look at Frances and her best friend and roommate, Sophie. The two seem virtually inseparable, spending full days together, sleeping in the same bed and picking each other up from work. But to Frances, the inseparability (and codependency) is real, as evidenced by her refusal to move in with her boyfriend and give up living with Sophie.
When Sophie suddenly decides to move out and live with someone else, Frances is crushed and falls into a downward spiral. She begins a wild series of living arrangements and whirlwind trips as her friendship with Sophie crumbles. All the while, Frances hilariously fumbles through social situations, displaying a perfect mix of awkward conversation and quick-wit dialogue.
“Sophie and I are the same person with different hair,” Frances lightheartedly explains to friends and acquaintances throughout the film. Though the line is repeated like a long-running joke between Frances and Sophie, as the film continues and the friends drift apart, the joke turns into more of a mantra. Frances tries to convince herself and others that she and her best friend are the same, though it becomes increasingly evident that they are not. As she and Sophie begin to live more separate lives, Frances is left to struggle with her own identity, making “Frances Ha” an unexpected and occasionally uncomfortable bildungsroman.
Though Frances can often be uncomfortable, selfish and painfully proud, she is also charming and lovable. This balance is maintained incredibly well by Greta Gerwig, who plays Frances so sincerely it is difficult to imagine her as anyone else. When the plot occasionally stalls and flounders, Gerwig’s acting carries the movie. Though her supporting actors, Mickey Sumner and “Girls” star Adam Driver, provide interesting dialogue, they don’t hold a candle to Gerwig.
This may be in part because of the fact that Gerwig co-wrote “Frances Ha” with director and boyfriend Baumbach. Though the script is purely fiction, Gerwig casted her own parents and visited her own hometown in the film. This makes Gerwig’s acting appear sincere and lends to the film’s overall realistic feeling. “Frances Ha” may be an unconventional coming-of-age story, but there is nothing doubtable about Frances’ life or choices, even at age 27.
This is not Gerwig’s first “late twenties coming-of-age” film either. In 2012, the same year “Frances Ha” was released, Gerwig also starred in “Lola Versus,” a romantic comedy about a single New Yorker trying to find her way at age 29. But what sets “Frances Ha” apart from Gerwig’s other film is that “Frances Ha” is not just a quirky take on the growing-up tale. Baumbach and Gerwig use “Frances Ha” to pay homage to French new-wave cinema and Baumbach’s favorite films, giving the movie a creative edge and a little something extra to enjoy. Shot in black and white, set in New York and Paris and paired with a bold, rock soundtrack, the movie is a cinematic pleasure as much as it is an awkward tale of emerging adulthood.
Between the acting, cinematography and sometimes painfully familiar dialogue, “Frances Ha” is certainly worth a watch. Baumbach and Gerwig make an incredible team and not only expertly tell the story of one young woman, but also beautifully deliver the experiences of those grappling with friendship, change and becoming a “real person.”