In the delightful ‘Frances Ha,’ a young adult tries to find her way
BY MARY HOULIHAN May 23, 2013 1:28PM
‘FRANCES HA’ ★★★½
Frances Greta Gerwig
Sophie Mickey Sumner
Lev Adam Driver
Benji Michael Zegen
Rachel Grace Gummer
Colleen Charlotte d’Amboise
IFC Films presents a film directed by Noah Baumbach. Written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Running time: 86 minutes. Rated R (for sexual references and language). Opening Friday at Landmark Century and Evanston CineArts 6.
Updated: June 25, 2013 6:06AM
In Noah Baumbach’s offbeat latest film, “Frances Ha,” the heroine is a mess. But she doesn’t see it that way. Drifitng through life in a childlike, disorganized way, Frances sees the glass half full rather than half empty. She doesn’t have a steady job or a place to live or a boyfriend, but none of that keeps her down as she tries to be pro-active about her life.
As played by a beguilingly klutzy Greta Gerwig, who wrote the script with Baumbach, Frances is a radiant revelation. It’s a portrayal in the same quirky vein as Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall; it’s hard not to fall in love with her. (FYI: Her last name is not Ha and is explained in a sweet final scene.)
Filled with witty dialogue and natural performances, “Frances Ha” marks a return to form for Baumbach, who followed “The Squid and the Whale” (2005) with the disappointing “Greenberg” (2010) and “Margot at the Wedding” (2007). While the film also invites comparisons to the HBO series “Girls,” Baumbach and Gerwig manage to find something original to say about female friendships in a time in life when things begin to drift in new and unexpected directions.
Shot in beautiful tones of black and white by cinematographer Sam Levy, the film gives a nod to the French New Wave (especially works by Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer), a favorite inspiration for Baumbach.
As the film opens, 27-year-old Frances lives in Brooklyn with best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner, a delight and the daughter of rock star Sting). They are like “an old lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex,” quips Frances. Sophie has the start of a promising career in publishing while Frances is barely hanging on to an apprenticeship with a modern-dance company.
Frances, who guards her friendship with Sophie, is thrown when her friend decides to move to Tribeca and live with her boyfriend. Without a place to stay, Frances turns to a series of friends, including two guys (Michael Zegen and Adam Driver of “Girls”) who have a perfect apartment (“Is that an Eames chair?”), thanks to subsidies from their parents. When that stint ends, she takes a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to Paris that she can little afford and then visits her parents (played by Gerwig’s real-life parents) in Sacramento, Calif., where life regains its former stability, but only for a moment.
Back in New York, a lonely, confusing existence awaits her. As her friends’ lives begin to change and move forward, Frances is caught in a time warp. In one telling scene, she attends an adult dinner party but has nothing adult to say. In her own misguided fashion, she is trying to reinvent herself but she’s her own worst enemy. The result is, she says, “I feel a lot older but less grown up.”
Meanwhile, the artistic director of the dance company, a sympathetic friend, offers Frances an office job instead of a spot in the company. Stunned, Frances heads to her alma mater, Vassar, to work as an RA for the summer.
In one of the film’s best scenes, an alumni fund-raiser, Frances, working as a server, and Sophie, visiting from Tokyo where she is living with her fiance, finally confront each other. They both learn some hard lessons about life and love and the meaning of forever.
But there also is much joy in this film. As Frances literally dances her way through the streets of New York, you can’t help smiling and knowing she will be OK. She will figure out how to be the adult she was meant to be.
Mary Houlihan is a locally based free-lance contributor.