I’ve been trumpeting ‘Frances Ha’ since I saw it last weekend; it is as a lock for my Top 10 of 2013 list. In response to this, a friend texted me asking me what the movie was about. I paused for a moment and thought about how I should answer this question; and then realized that though not much really happens in terms of actual plot, this is still a picture that took me on an incredible emotional journey.
Because I’m writing a review for the movie, I should probably make a greater effort to describe what it is about here. We meet Frances – a 27 year old dancer who lives with her best friend Sophie in New York. One day, Sophie decides to move out and live with another friend; Frances ends up hopping from place to place, she doesn’t have a job that is consistent, and all this leaves her with having to figure out how to live her life.
I realize my simplistic description doesn’t do the movie justice because it doesn’t sound much more than a cliché; a college-educated middle-class girl wandering the streets of New York without a sense of purpose. This is a small film, but a great one – and much of that has to do with the writing and the performance by Greta Gerwig at the title character (Gerwig penned the script alongside Noah Baumbach, the director of the picture). Frances is charming, open-hearted, and such a goof. But, she is completely herself at all times and her character feels very real – we can describe her like we can close friends; it’s impossible not to love her. At times, she is her own worst enemy, but there is a rooting interest for this character; and the movie wants her to succeed, and so we want her to succeed and to find happiness. Gerwig strikes the perfect balance between effortless verbal timing and physical comedy.
‘Frances Ha’ does have its share of influences – it reminded me of Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Masculin Feminin’ about young people trying to make their way in the world and figuring out who they are by making mistakes along the way – sometimes learning from them, sometimes not. It has a circa 1970s Woody Allen feel – the chatty, observational and cultured characters within the New York setting. This movie is also shot in black and white in a grainy, intimate way – this visual aesthetic reminded me of pictures from the French New Wave, which also honed in on restless youth. Despite its historical cinematic influences, ‘Frances Ha’ is still very much its own contemporary thing.
This was the most joyful experience I had at the movies so far this year – especially the film’s final moments that made me so thrilled and giddy with excitement in a way that I haven’t felt for any character in a long time. There is a surprising amount of emotion and happiness; the ending describes the film’s title in the sweetest way possible. It’s simple, but very effective – this movie has the perfect ending. ‘Frances Ha’ earns my highest recommendation. QED.