Featuring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Grace Gummer, Michael Zegen
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Australian release date: Thursday, 15th August
Verdict: annoyingly cute
Frances Halladay is a 27-year-old dancer who lives with her best friend Sophie. When Sophie decides to move out (and on), Frances is plunged into a late twenties personal and professional development crisis.
I suspect that the older you are, the less you will like Frances Ha. Refreshing as it is to see a film whose main character is a woman, and a story about love that does not frame marriage as the pot of gold at the end of the fucking rainbow, the struggles of a needy twenty-seven-year-old middle-class WASP to discover some personal insight may annoy the crap out of you. Or not, as the case may be.
It’s a bit Jane Austen-ish, really, this story, if you cut out the marriage plot. Baumbach and Gerwig’s “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory” is modern-day New York, and the dilemma is not finding a husband, but finding a professional and personal niche as an adult. It’s not epic adventure, but the question of what you will settle for is relevant to all women and men, and a valid theme.
Our heroine Frances (Greta Gerwig) is moving on to the next phase of her life – adolescence/college/internships and entry-level jobs are, or should be, in the past. She’s at the quarter-century life crisis, trying to establish her permanency in a dance company, and at the same time facing up to the fact that her long-time bestie and flatmate, Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is leaving her behind.
The film is structured around a number of addresses that Frances occupies, and begins in the apartment she shares with Sophie. A lot is made of their relationship. It’s intense – they joke about being lesbians who don’t have sex – but childish. Each has expectations about boundaries, each withholds true opinions. When Sophie moves on, Frances tries to replace her, but in a well-worn romantic film trope, loved activities like play-fighting are not the same with the newbie.
After avoiding becoming a notch on the belt of new house-mate Lev (Adam Driver), Frances forms a comfortable friendship with third house-mate Benji (Michael Zegen). You know that this is going to be a lifelong thing, but it’s not the main thrust of the story, which focuses firmly on Frances as she struggles with money worries, professional disappointments and personal development.
And boy, does she need to develop personally! She’s at her most relaxed and happy on a visit to the burbs of Sacramento for Christmas with her family. There she doesn’t have to be a grown-up; elsewhere, she seems painfully awkward and downright graceless.
Frances has to “put away childish things” and recognise not only her limitations, but her talents. It’s pretty clear she’ll never cut it as a dancer, but apparently she is a promising choreographer. There’s a lovely payoff to her “settling” for an administration job at the dance company, beyond the salary that finally enables her to get her own apartment: self-respect, creative possibilities and a newly mature regard for Sophie.
The black and white filming (a tribute to someone or other) adds little. Nor, however, does it detract from the light touch of the tale. But I suspect many will find the characters unlikeable, although Greta Gerwig is very watchable, and Cate Blanchett look-alike Mickey Sumner, uglified with bad glasses, almost steals the show as straight man to the needy Frances.
But there are laughs; and I find myself thinking more about Frances Ha than my initial reaction promised. Recommended for hipsters, and not-too-curmudgeonly feminists seeking Bechdel-Test-passing films.
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