She’s not quite grown into womanhood yet. But at 27, she’s past the age where acting like a kid holds more charm than social-life penalty points.
Frances, the centerpiece of director Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha,” is a quirky, semi-irresponsible optimist lurching through a messy post-college entrance into life.
In the hands of actress Greta Gerwig, wide-eyed Frances is a fascinating character study in glorious black and white.
Gerwig again plays the same kind of socially awkward and vulnerable yet strong character she inhabited in Baumbach’s 2010 movie “Greenberg” and in 2012’s “Lola Versus.” It’s her performance that makes “Frances Ha” worth catching, though the script is an interesting look at arty twentysomethings in New York City and how they view the world.
Frances aspires to a career as a professional dancer, but her years as an apprentice with a contemporary-dance company have about run out.
Her years of dating seem to be going nowhere fast as well. She turns down moving in with longtime boyfriend Ben because she can’t disappoint her roommate and best galpal, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), by breaking their apartment lease.
While they’re at it, Frances and Ben call it quits.
Then Sophie moves in with another girlfriend, unable to resist a more attractive address in Tribeca. And takes up with a serious boyfriend, who eats up all the galpal time that once belonged to Frances.
Frances can’t afford the rent alone. Soon after the movie starts, it looks like one sketchy choice after another have left her homeless, jobless, broke, best-friendless and without a love life.
Yet Frances is the type who doesn’t face unpleasant truths at the expense of cherished dreams. In the face of all that, she could easily turn down a job offer, or fly to Paris for the weekend on a whim and a new credit card as she bounces from zip code to zip code for a place to crash.
Practical Midwesterners could find Frances either refreshing or maddening, in need of a hug or a hard shake and a stern talking-to about the realities of life. Gerwig made me lean toward the hug and admiration.
Also charming: Michael Zegen and Adam Driver as Benji and Lev, a writer and a sculptor who offer Frances a temporary home and understanding ears, at least until the money runs out.
Meryl Streep’s daughter, Grace Gummer, is spot-on as Rachel, a professional dancer in the company Frances hopes to tour with. Rachel, too, gets leaned on in a lurch but responds with less good humor than Benji and Lev.
Baumbach and Gerwig (they’re a couple in real life) are obviously after a niche audience, not shooting for light, broad-based summer appeal. They wrote the “Frances Ha” screenplay together. Though Baumbach probably struck a broader chord with “The Squid and the Whale” in 2005, Gerwig’s unique and impossible-to-categorize appeal make this an interesting short hour and a half.
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