Frances Ha (2012)
Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Charlotte d’Ambroise, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen. Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Directed by Noah Baumbach.
Frances and Sophie are the kind of best friends who fall asleep in each other’s beds and who seem to be more excited about talking with each other on the phone than with their boyfriends in person. Every conversation is laden with inside jokes and silly gestures that crack them both up, and at first Frances Ha seems like it’s going to be a movie about this friendship, and you kind of want it to be.
But it’s really a movie about Frances, a sort-of professional dancer who good enough to be sort-of a professional dancer but maybe not much better, and although she’s graceful in performance, she is awkward just about everywhere else. In the middle of conversations at parties with people she’s just met, she blurts out strange monologues about what she’s always wanted in life. When a possible suitor touches her shoulder, she makes the buzzing game-show sound of rejection—aloud—while she flinches away from the offending hand.
Frances stumbles her way from one living arrangement to the next, struggling financially and interpersonally, balancing precariously somehow between joy and depression, between destitution and scraping by. What Frances wants and whether or not she has what it takes to get it isn’t nearly as interesting as what we want for Frances as we see her struggle. I wasn’t sure what I wanted her to achieve, but I knew that I really, really wanted her to be happy. Placed in weird parties with normal people, Frances can’t seem to say or do anything that makes sense, but the same behaviors in the midst of other friends, including Sophie, make her shine.
Presented beautifully in black and white, the technical decisions in the film are almost as impressive as the writing decisions, and if you get a chance to see the Criterion Collection release of this film, short presentations on both aspects are offered as extra features. The extra evening it might take you to view the few but fascinating extras (including an interview of Noah Baumbach by Peter Bogdanovich) is totally worth it, and they make a second viewing even better than the first.