Since his 1995 debut, Kicking and Screaming, writer-director Noah Baumbach has been chronicling arrested development cases trying to stave off adulthood. His most recent (and best) film, 2010’s Greenberg, starred Ben Stiller as a dyspeptic fortysomething Peter Pan, sourly growing up just a little bit, thanks to the affections of mumblecore muse Greta Gerwig.
If the indie movie world had a TMZ, it would have been rocked when Baumbach then left his longtime love Jennifer Jason Leigh for Gerwig. I only mention this tawdry gossip because Baumbach’s latest film, Frances Ha, is so obviously the work of a man giddy in love. Gerwig (who co-wrote the script with Baumbach) stars as Frances, a cash-strapped aspiring dancer, couch-surfing her way through a lot of irresponsible decisions in a New York City that’s a lot tougher than she’d initially imagined. Gerwig is at the center of nearly every shot. The camera loves her, probably because the director does, too.
Your particular affections might be tested by a character who is most often her own worst enemy and sometimes carries on like a child years after such behavior can still be considered cute. I fell for her, though, mostly because I’m a sucker for Gerwig’s galumphy, awkward charm. Her clomping, graceless dances are the movie’s most endearing running gags.
Much like Greenberg, it’s a movie about how lonely it is when all your friends get their shit together and settle down. After her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of Sting) ditches Frances for TriBeCa digs and a serious relationship, we spend a year following her through temporary apartments, shit jobs and constant financial dread.
I know, over-entitled 20-something female struggling in New York with friends played by celebrity offspring—this sounds a lot like Girls even before Adam Driver shows up. But Frances Ha has a much sunnier disposition than Lena Dunham’s HBO show (which sounds like a weird thing to say about a film from the man who made The Squid and the Whale, but like I said, he’s in love).
Shot in shimmery black-and-white suggesting Woody Allen’s Manhattan and scored with a heavy sampling of Georges Delerue soundtracks, Frances Ha is awash in movie references. The most exuberant is lifted directly from Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, as Gerwig sprints down the street to the tune of David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” Baumbach loves to watch her run. So did I.