Frances Ha is the new film from director Noah Baumbach. The indie auteur once again casts his favorite Greta Gerwig as the frankly uncouth Frances. A subtle comedy, the plot centers around a directionless young woman and the intense admiration for her best friend and roommate Sophie. Broke, unemployed, and awkward, the main character searches for terra firma in New York City after Sophie “dumps” her for a ritzier apartment in Tribeca, and, more importantly, a change of pace. Moving into a more expensive apartment with friends, Benji and Lev, Frances attempts to acquire more work through dancing, her passion. Sadly, luck never seems to fall on a fortunate fate. The head instructor at the dance studio informs Frances times are tough and there is simply no room for her during the (lucrative) Christmas show. To make matters worse, Frances finds out through a mutual acquaintance that best friend Sophie has quit her job and plans to move to Japan with long-time boyfriend Patch.
Co-written with Gerwig, Baumbach once again examines characters in search of meaning and destiny, however abstract. The characters within the director’s films are so erratic and strange; it makes audiences wonder how they have made it even this far in life. Audiences remember the chap-stick obsessed Ben Stiller in Greenberg and semen smearing Owen Kline in Squid and the Whale. Frances is a balance between the two protagonists; less, but still socially unpolished like Stiller, yet a character invariably connected to reality like Kline. In the premier half of Frances the cumbersome attitude portrayed by Gerwig reads contrived and silly. Thankfully, with the elapse of running time, and expectations of the acumen of our main character dwindling, Frances and Frances gain a certain charm.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Frances Ha is the excellent score. French New wave director Erich Rohmer refused to use soundtrack in his film, stating it broke the Fourth Wall – thankfully Baumbach does not follow such a principle. Whenever the bluntly elegant soundtrack arises in the film, audience members breath a sigh of relief, as an escape or promise of something positive heading toward the downtrodden Frances. Even the less than nuanced fans of French New Wave will notice most pieces, besides those of Bowie, Hot Chocolate, and Bach, are composed by Nouvelle Vague favorite Georges Delerue.
Frances Ha is more entertaining than enjoyable. Shot in black and white, the film provides a more pleasant atmosphere than some ambitious artistic treatise. Despite being centered on Gerwig, her interactions with those around her produce the best moments. The narrative, accompanied by smart directing, has a knack for exposing intimate characteristic about boring people. Noting this attribute, it takes little stretching of the imagination to believe that Baumbach has written for the iconically awkward films of Wes Anderson. One believes the fate of the director’s latest production will be marginalized to a limited regional release, hitting the major cities and bypassing local cinemas. Though surely no one in the production thought differently, I’m sure.