The seventh film from “Greenberg” director Noah Baumbach isn’t so much a traditional narrative as it is a character study of Frances (Greta Gerwig), an underemployed dancer struggling to find herself in New York City. It plays like a cleaned up black-and-white version of “Girls”; an emotionally rich and funny portrait of twenty-something ennui.
“Frances Ha” is a collection of details. There is an engaging story, but it’s not exactly laid out in three acts. It feels more intimate and raw than the usual twenty-ish crisis flick and with each detail we get another piece of the puzzle that makes up Frances’ life.
As she navigates her difficult New York existence we learn of the estrangement of her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), the endless search for a place to live and even the $3 surcharge she must pay at the ATM.
More importantly Gerwig and Baumbach paint a compelling portrait of a woman who doesn’t always make the right choices, who doesn’t always even learn from her mistakes, but is never anything less than human and interesting. By the time she comments on her own choreography that she, “like[s] things that look like mistakes,” we understand that the wrrors she makes offstage, during her dance of life, are the very thing that builds her character.
The supporting cast (including “Girls” star Adam Driver) is strong but this is Gerwig’s movie. Once again —after films like “Lola Versus” and “Arthur”—she hands in an authentic, affecting and purely wonderful performance as a woman who learns to look inwards rather than to others for happiness.
Unlike “Girls,” a television show that mines similar territory, “Frances Ha” never stoops to shock value to make its point. Instead it relies on warmth and charm to capture the vagaries of a mostly rudderless life. Highly recommended.