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Frances Ha - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Frances Ha
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

The narrative arc of Frances Ha is surprisingly conventional, given the previous offerings by director Noah Baumbach. His films historically work fairly well due to character quirks that come across as real rather than gimmicky. He never quite matched the quality of (The Squid and the Whale, though -- perhaps until now.

Frances Ha turns a little bit of a corner, and it's clearly because Baumbach co-wrote it with Greta Gerwig (who co-starred in the far inferior Greenberg). This is a movie about an aimless twenty-something, and it feels very much like it has the sensibility of aimless twenty-somethings due to Gerwig's input. That's not to discount Baumbach's own writing, but it is relevant that he is 43.

Gerwig plays the title character, Frances, and she doesn't know what she wants; she even willfully rejects what she needs, even when it's right in front of her, in order to retain that aimlessness. She's an aspiring dancer but can't get past an apprenticeship. She clings to her deeply close friendship with roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner), which she describes as being like "an old lesbian couple who don't have sex anymore." Very early on, Frances's boyfriend proposes that they move in together, and Frances balks, using the lease she shares with Sophie as an excuse.

But then Sophie independently finds an apartment of her own in another neighborhood, and Frances doesn't know what to do with herself. Her life had no real foundation before, but the living situation with Sophie felt deceptively stable.

I'm not sure describing the movie this way -- which is accurate -- makes it sound all that compelling. And to be honest, it gets a ways into the run time before the movie itself stops feeling aimless. It's easy to see some people viewing this movie and thinking, What am I watching? Honestly it's still unclear to me why Baumbach chose to shoot this movie in black and white. If nothing else, it's in stark contrast to Greenberg, which was about people who live in L.A. This time we're in New York, and even in black and white, the movie does convey a clear sense of contemporary living there. If you're familiar with New York and have an affection for it, this movie will make you miss it.

And Frances does have a sort of covert charm to her. She seems like she's always distracted, just this side of air-headed, but she grows on you. As the movie goes on, the more you want her to wake up to what's right in front of her. It's easy to imagine her as one of your friends -- albeit a friend you love but who drives you crazy.

Sophie finds a fiancé. She begins to live life without Frances, which makes Frances feel left out. Frances moves into new places, makes new friends -- the film is divided into chapters with title cards that refer to her new home address. Frances has moments of deep irresponsibility, like when she takes a spontaneous trip to Paris for only two days using a brand new credit card. I don't even want to think about how much that would cost her, especially for someone only barely part-time employed.

For a period, Frances lives with two guys, Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen). It's painfully obvious that Frances and Benji should be together, but instead they make forced jokes about the other being "undateable." Lev has a parade of one-night stands, the first of which is played by Justine Lupe, who I recognized from TV's Harry's Law. The TV gig was a major part and this one consisted of two or three lines. That made me kind of sad for her. But is it better to have a huge part in something corny or a small part in something good? You decide.

Frances Ha seems different on the surface; it's filled with details that appear to set it apart. But beat by beat, it's still another story about someone unlucky in love with no direction in her life -- until, you know, you can predict the rest. Nothing in this movie genuinely surprises. It does have much of the patented Baumbach awkwardness, but on average is still a rather pleasant detour through the lives of urbanites who are still adjusting to youth being recently behind them. As long as you're past your mid-twenties, the younger you are, the more you can probably relate.

Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig live the twentysomething life in FRANCES HA.

Overall: B+
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