I know what you might be thinking: "What, ANOTHER movie about the travails of young white women seeking fulfillment in challenging urban America, someone kill me now." That feeling will not necessarily go away for the first ten minutes of Frances Ha, wherein Frances (Greta Gerwig) and her best friend Sophie address each other in arguably offensive faux-Ebonics, share a bed, get drunk, go to a PARTY IN BROOKLYN, WILLIAMFUCKINGSBURG TO BE PRECISE, exchange confidences about the Men In Their Lives And How Lame They Are, and do a few other things that you might be under the impression that you've seen in a movie or on a television show something like ten or fifteen thousand times before in the last eight months. I can't lie to you about that, even if I wanted to.
But Frances Ha starts to take shape in a somewhat more possibly amiable way after this introduction. As a somewhat slightly qualified admirer of the HBO series Girls I can report that the agenda of Frances Ha is not, like that of the series, to contrive a sort of "look from the inside" at the situations of particular young women in the circumstance of seeking fulfillment in challenging urban America and from therein to perform some sort of inversion of traditional audience expectation. No, Frances Ha is a somewhat more conventional contrivance, a specific sort-of adult coming-of-age comedy. Directed by Noah Baumbach from a script by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, who also plays the title character, Frances Ha brings a reasonably fresh perspective to material that people who go to a lot of film festivals and follow a lot of non-audience-connecting film-festival-dubbed "movements" or genres might consider overexposed to the point of losing-the-will-to-live over.
I'll try not to be so trite as to assert that what Baumbach brings to the table is a kind of artistic detachment. But, first, and most strikingly obvious, thing first, he does put this material through his own particular sensibility, shooting it in black-and-white and scoring it with a bunch of old Georges Delerue music, and hence attaching his own wistful notion of how this particular material (which I'm going to assume at least originated with Gerwig, as she is, or was, an authentic representative of the class portrayed herein) should be cinematically rendered. And he and Gerwig go through the trouble of constructing something of an actual narrative. The movie begins with Frances declining to move in with her boyfriend on account of having promised aforementioned best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) that they'd stick to cohabitating until at least their lease ran out, and OF COURSE Sophie's the one who then turns around and bails into a new roommate situation. Leaving Frances to "crash" at the big apartment of a guy with whom she MIGHT have been able to at least hook up (the movie's structured around a series of addresses Frances roosts in, which come up in nice white-on-black title cards). Again, I cannot tell a lie: this guy is played by Adam Driver, the big white lug of Girls, and here his character is actually rather charming and goofy in a mild 20-something-semi-cad sort of way. Frances Ha is pretty kind to its male characters, and it's not particularly harsh on Frances herself, although the movie doesn't stint on depicting her as something of a fuck up. But as it is in fact a pure comedy—Baumbach never overreaches here in the ways that made parts of Margot At The Wedding the wrong kind of uncomfortable—the viewer is pretty sure things will pick up before Frances has to go rooting around dumpsters. On the way we are treated to some very awkward and funny and engaging scenes that often ring quite true. I was particularly taken with a dinner party sequence in which Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips are cast against type as aging snooty one-time yuppies who turn out to be not entirely unsympathetic to Frances; it's just that, with pretty much very nearly a generation separating them, they do in fact turn out to speak entirely different languages. The dialogue is fresh and sharp throughout: little offhand quirked-out observations like "Transportation's his thing" get some of the movie's biggest laughs.
Unlike Joe Swanberg's opportunistic and quasi-voyeuristic Hannah Takes The Stairs—a similarly-themed picture starring Gerwig for which its director tacked a new name on the actress and then sat her in front of, say, Kent Osborne, who's apparently Swanberg's idea of Brice Parain, and then switched the camera on—Frances Ha gives Gerwig the performer some tasks, in the form of a character who eventually repairs herself, somewhat, off-screen. I'm a Baumbach fan, but it's been some time since he's made a film this...I think the word is "winning." But there you have it. Nevertheless, if I read one more piece about the movie referring to it as a "valentine" or "love letter" to its star, with whom Baumbach reportedly has some kind of personal involvement, I may barf even more prodigiously than Mickey Sumner's character does at a crucial point in the film.