Michael C. here to report on the first home run I've seen at the New York Film Festival. Frances Ha is the type movie experience I’m hoping for every time I plunk down my ticket money. It knows exactly what it wants to do and how it wants to do it and as a result it grabs you by the sleeve and pulls you right in. It is Noah Baumbach’s finest film to date and the big breakout due for Greta Gerwig for some time now.
Frances (Gerwig) is a dancer who shares a Brooklyn apartment with her bestest buddy Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Pushing thirty and stalled professionally and personally, she is right at the age when spending her nights flitting around the city getting wasted with her girlfriend stops being cute and starts being a cause for concern. When events transpire to threaten Frances' holding pattern the wheels quickly come off her cushy existence.
With this film Baumbach has not expanded his style so much as smashed it into a thousand pieces and arranged them into a collage. [More...]
Frances Ha leaps in and out of scenes with abandon, staying only long enough for a quiet moment or a snippet of dialogue. Baumbach will pile up a dozen tiny moments in a row before settling down for a complex five-minute scene. It’s an exhilarating way to capture Frances adrift in her own life. I know an Oscar nomination for best editing is a pipe dream, but it deserves one. Same goes for the film’s striking black and white cinematography, which fearlessly calls to mind Woody Allen’s Manhattan and then proceeds to earn the comparison with its time capsule-ready portrait of present-day New York.
Less immediately noticeable than the bold style is the change in tone from Baumbach’s previous films, no doubt due to the influence of Gerwig, who cowrote the screenplay. The merciless edge of his writing is somewhat softened here. France Ha is no less perceptive than Squid and the Whale or Greenberg but it is a gentler, less acidic voice. Frances is too endearing to stay angry at even with her maddening, self-sabotaging behavior - not something that could be said of Baumbach’s other protagonists.
That the film is consistently funny as hell also deserves mentioning.
Even with the beautiful craft and the sharp writing the headline here is Gerwig’s performance. The film’s distributor would have to drop the ball big time for her to not feature in the discussion of the year’s best performances. The supporting cast is aces too, particularly Mickey Sumner as Sophie and Adam Driver who delivers a brief but devastating take on posturing Brooklyn cool.
Any complaints? Maybe things get tied up a trifle too neatly in the closing moments. To continue with the Manhattan comparison, Frances Ha never finds the surprising power Allen found in the final scenes of his New York opus. But this is just me being stingy with the masterpiece label. My primary reaction is one of admiration and joy. Frances Ha is heading for a prominent place on my list of the year’s best films. A –