“Frances Ha” is a movie that will either drive you insane or put you under its spell. It’s a movie filled with quirky conversations and some slightly eccentric characters each with their own set of problems. On the surface that may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea. But it really works because it revolves around a fascinating main character named Frances. She’s played by Greta Gerwig, an actress I really appreciate, and her central performance is what drives the film.
It could be said that nothing really happens in “Frances Ha”. The modest story follows Frances who at first shares a New York City apartment with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frances is a hapless struggling dancer who finds her circumstances more difficult after Sophie moves out. We watch her try to find an affordable place to stay. We watch her try to land a stable job. We watch her try and make new friends. But Frances could be called insecure and socially awkward. This leads her to try too hard to make impressions. This results in uncomfortable and often times embarrassing situations for her.
There is a big comedy element to this film so much of that is often played for laughs. But there is a subtle and sympathetic undercurrent that flows throughout the film. At times I genuinely felt for Frances as she stumbled over her words or didn’t know when to stop talking. One part of me was laughing while the other part felt guilty for doing so. Gerwig gets a ton of credit for that. She co-wrote the script alongside director Noah Baumbach and she has a real strength for playing this type of character. Sure, some may find her gawkiness annoying but not me. I truly found myself caring about this character.
Baumbach does a great job contributing to the solid script but he also deserves credit for his direction. He chose to film in black-and-white and it really suits the picture. There are also numerous tips of the hat and homages ranging from Woody Allen to French New Wave cinema. For example, the black-and-white combined with the numerous New York City locales is an unmistakable tip of the hat to “Manhattan”. The film is also unique due to its rapid fire editing. It jumps from scene to scene, never staying in one place too long. But surprisingly it really works in this film and Baumbach is artful in his use.
“Frances Ha” certainly isn’t breaking new ground and some may not find its peculiarity all that entertaining. It does spin its wheels in spots and it may not blow you away with its ambition. But sometimes a movie doesn’t need to do those things to be successful. That’s the case with this film. “Frances Ha” works because of its intriguing central character, a great performance from Greta Gerwig, and a really interesting technical approach from Noah Baumbach. That was more than enough to make me really appreciate “Frances Ha”.