Frances Ha Directed by: Noah Baumbach Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegan, Christine Gerwig, Gordon Gerwig Running Time: 1 hr 26 mins Rating: R Release Date: May 24, 2013 (Chicago)
PLOT: Frances (Gerwig) tries to make something of herself in New York City.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you've ever felt aloof in your twenties, or re-tweeted Lena Dunham, you might want to take a look at this one.
In this era when a New York twenty-something girl can't make a screenplay out of her journal without it being compared to "Girls," I am not reminded of Lena Dunham's popular boob toob program, but of Lola Versus, a Haagen Dazs date from last year you might have experienced and soon forgot. Directed by Daryl Wein and co-written with Zoe Lister Jones, Lola Versus was a film that also starred Frances Ha lead Greta Gerwig as the title character, playing a twenty-whatever in New York City trying to pull herself together. Both films feature scenes in which Gerwig comically steals booze.
I mention this movie because Gerwig's new movie Frances Ha casts quite a shadow over Lola, the two seeming similar in shape and aspiration, but different with success. As they both strive to achieve honesty with their audience, particularly of a young 'n hip demographic, one stands as an example of when comedy breaks the earnest nature being desired, and the other an example of when a script can duplicate the humor of life, in coincidences, odd characters, and awkward moments, without losing grasp of being totally real. Frances Ha, a relaxed film with strong results, is the second example.
Both of these films require getting Gerwig. While I do feel I indeed get Gerwig, I'm not sure I've ever found her to be so funny as she is in this film, casually giving out one-liners and basking in her "humble awkwardness" (to quote my Pulitzer Prize-winning review of Lola Versus). In Frances Ha, Gerwig shows that comedy comes to her with ease. And in a time in which indie comedies are weaning from "Manic Pixie Dream Girls," Gerwig's own version of a sprightly individual is in tact with genuineness. Frances Ha becomes the successful movie it is because Gerwig doesn't have to try hard.
Director Noah Baumbach, the co-writer for Madagascar: Europe's Most Wanted, uses aesthetic choices that alone have a face value of laughably pretentious (to use a brilliant phrase coined by my own Frances, "Who arted?"). Choice one, if you're going to use black-and-white coloring for a feature film in 2013, you'd better be pathetically poor and using a Bolex camera, or trying to make your own version Woody Allen's Manhattan (the latter of which Baumbach seems to be doing).
Choice two, which is even larger to pull off gracefully, (think the vault heist in Fast Five as compared to the DVD player robbery in The Fast & the Furious), is Baumbach's choice of music. Though used sparingly, the Frances Ha soundtrack essentially rips from old French films like The 400 Blows, and gives props to former beat makers like Georges Delerue. Using these songs, however pretty they are, in a film that is also black-and-white, is arthouse suicide. But like the final action sequence of Fast and Furious 6, Baumbach somehow pulls off this aesthetic daredevil feat, and Frances Ha is even better for it.
With Gerwig's earnest presence felt in both the story and her title performance, accompanied by Baumbach's aesthetic choices while pledging to minimalism, Frances Ha becomes one big charming package, a movie that both of them dance through with a grace often strived for by similar looking movies, but rarely achieved. Frances Ha is a confident little movie as well; both of them have trying-too-hard Lola Versus projects in their past, like Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, and Gerwig, with a little film that perhaps you've heard of called Lola Versus. With Frances Ha, both storytellers are nicely relaxed, relying on delightful expressions from their talent that's simply natural.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10