Frances Ha (2012) ☆☆☆(3/4) : Lightweight aimlessness in black and white

francesha01 When I watched “Frances Ha” around the end of last year, I was amused by its lightweight charm. I briefly mentioned it along with other good films in my annual movie list of 2013, and I thought I will probably like it more when I revisit it. Several months have passed since that, and now I have watched it again for writing this review, and I still think the movie is a charming piece of work, although I also recognized its weak points including its thin plot and unfocused narrative flow.

The movie revolves around the wandering period of Frances(Greta Gerwig), a young New Yorker who is an apprentice in some dance company. She is ready for any chance to establish and develop her dancer career, but she has been stuck in the position where she started after her college graduation. She has not yet been promoted to a regular member of her company, and it looks like she may have to think seriously about changing the direction in her life and career.

But, like many young people at her age, she is optimistic about her current situation, and the opening sequence of the movie shows her having a fun time with her best friend Sophie(Mickey Sumner), who has been living with Frances in their cozy Brooklyn apartment. They still feel like being in their good old college days, and everything looks fine to them as they go around the city with Georges Delerue’s playful score for “A Gorgeous Girl Like Me”(1972) being played on the soundtrack.

And then an unexpected change comes. When her boyfriend Dan(Michael Esper) suggests to her that they should live together, Frances rejects his proposal just because she has been comfortable with living with Sophie, and that results in the breakup of her relationship with Dan. To make the matters worse, her friendship with Sophie turns out to be not as strong as she thought. Sophie tells Frances that she is soon going to move into a better apartment in Manhattan without her, and now Frances has to find the other place to live.

francesha03 She fortunately gets a new place to live before their lease is expired, and her new roommates, Lev(Adam Driver) and Benji(Michael Zegen), are nice guys, but then she receives another bad news. When she is expecting another payment for her performance, she is laid off from her dance company due to financial problem, so she has no choice but to leave New York and go to Sacramento, California for staying at her parents’ house for a while.

She comes back to New York later, but her life keeps drifting around places and people with no particular sign of advancement. At one point, she makes an impulsive decision of going to Paris for meeting some people she previously met, but that impromptu trip only results in nothing but the waste of her money thanks to her carelessness. She goes back to her college for working as an employee, and we get a small humorous moment of embarrassment when she is notified that she cannot attend a dance class due to regulation.

Watching her aimless drifting, I was reminded of Lena Dunham’s small debut work “Tiny Furniture”(2010), another movie about a young girl struggling to take the first step into adult life. While a little more matured compared to the confused heroine of “Tiny Furniture”, Frances is still a young girl hesitant to move forward for herself and her life, and it is sometimes frustrating to watch her wandering with no particular plan except her vague aspiration.

None the less, Frances comes to us as a likable heroine to watch, and Greta Gerwig, who wrote the screenplay with the director Noah Baumbach, supports her character with her lively presence. I did not like Baumbach’s previous movie “Greenberg”(2010) a lot, but I appreciated her warm performance along with Ben Stiller’s surprisingly edgy performance, and Gerwig exudes her own natural charm again here in this film. Frances can be silly, unwise, and self-absorbed at times, but you cannot help but like her, and you may smile as watching this sunny girl running hurriedly along the streets of New York or casually making some dance moves just for fun.

francesha02 The young supporting actors around Gerwig hold their respective places on the fringe while showing each own potential. Mickey Sumner has a nice scene with Gerwig later in the movie when her character happens to spend one drunken night with Frances, and Michael Zegen is one of Frances’s new roommates who aspires to be hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live(he is the one who labels her as “undatable”), and some of you may be amused by the performance of Adam Driver, who plays a New Yorker character different from the one he has been playing in Lena Dunham’s HBO TV series “Girls”.

With the fabulous black and white cinematography by Sam Levy, Baumback soaks his movie into the style and mood reminiscent of the French New Wave films from the 1950-60s. I have been a fan of Georges Delerue’s works since I listened to his wonderful score for “Joe Versus the Volcano”(1990), so I was naturally delighted by the prominent use of Delerue’s scores in the film, and I also enjoyed the crisp black and white images of the New York locations which will certainly take you back to Woody Allen’s classic film “Manhattan”(1979).

Although it begins to lose its pace during its second half and then ends its story rather abruptly, “Frances Ha” floats along with its heroine as much as it can through its breezy style and Gerwig’s lovable performance. Its charm may be merely superficial and temporary, and my second viewing did not change much of my initial reaction toward it, but I won’t deny that I enjoyed it at least during my viewing.

francesha04

 

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