Rated R for sexual references and language. One hour, 23 minutes.
Publication date: Publication Date May. 24, 2013
Review by Peter Canavese
Indie queen Greta Gerwig stars in the title role of a 27-year-old dance-company "apprentice," meaning that, at work, she's a second-class citizen stuck understudying and hoping for opportunities that seem to be dwindling. Her love life is one of unfulfilling boyfriends and dates that pass like subway trains. These cycles of disappointment make up most of this funny-sad movie, co-written by Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach ("Margot at the Wedding," "The Squid and the Whale").
But routine disappointments don't much deter the spirited Frances; what kills her is the loss of her roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who, at film's outset, has a friendship with Frances so seemingly tight that it borders on unhealthy. "We are like a lesbian couple that doesn't have sex anymore," Frances notes. But Sophie, embracing her relationship with her boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger), moves out, knocking Frances off her relatively even keel.
Frances begins flitting from apartment to apartment, including living for a time with two male roommates, Lev (Adam Driver of "Girls," beginning to seem like the only living boy in New York) and Benji (Michael Zegen of "Rescue Me"), both of whom conjure romantic possibilities. Whether it's hometown Sacramento (the upper-middle-class suburbia to Frances' paycheck-to-paycheck urbia) or Paris (on a spur-of-the-moment vacation misfire), Frances can't seem to get comfortable in any one place.
Meanwhile, out of some combination of hope and pride, Frances turns down middling opportunities, keeping her eye on likely unattainable prizes. Maybe all she needs is one specific platonic ideal back in her life, in the form of Sophie. In its environment and exploration of work life, art life, romance and friendship, it's a bit eerie how much "Frances Ha" resembles the first season of "Girls," condensed to 83 minutes. And yet, if Gerwig's take is just as quirky and funny, it's decidedly warmer and less snarky.
The picture brims with funny ideas both verbal and visual that are finely tuned by Baumbach and his cast, and sharply edited by Jennifer Lame. By committing to a consistent style of dropping in and out of scenes to create comically decontextualized snippets of conversation, the filmmakers discover what feels like a fresh style of humor, creating magical moments of conversational nothing that out-"Seinfeld" "Seinfeld" (of smoking inside, for example, Frances says, "This makes me feel like a bad mother in 1987").
Baumbach makes numerous conscious audio-visual allusions to the French New Wave, but his black-and-white, Manhattan-set film (with a supporting turn by Grace Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter) unavoidably conjures Woody Allen's "Manhattan," another film that usefully explores the tension between romanticization and reality in New York City. (Though shot by Sam Levy, "Frances Ha" is dedicated to its visual consultant, the late, great Harris Savides.) Time to book another trip to the Big Apple.