FRANCES HA



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When I first started watching Frances Ha, the new comedy of quirkiness directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and its effervescent star, Greta Gerwig, I have to admit that my heart sunk a bit.  It had all the earmarks of one of those mumble core movies, that “hey, my uncle’s got a barn and my aunt can make the costumes, so let’s put on a show” movement that had nothing to say and nothing to offer and that seriously (I mean, seriously) bored the hell out of me.  At first Frances Ha seems like mumblecore prime, filled as the opening scenes are with annoying and self-absorbed people who think they are fascinating, but aren’t remotely, backed by cinematography in pretentious black and white. 
But it’s not long before something very odd, and maybe even ironical, happens.  The more annoying and unlikable Frances becomes, the more likeable and less annoying she becomes, which, as a friend of mine said, is a pretty neat trick.  And it’s not long before you’re won over and find yourself completely entranced by the Frances and her story.
Frances is someone who so thought she was going somewhere: she has the perfect best friend/roommate, someone who really gets her; she has a boyfriend; she is a dancer and teacher for a dance company that she thinks is going to be her future.  And then, as happens so often in life (which is a good thing for screenwriters or otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to write about), she loses everything in a quick succession of events.   And suddenly she’s left floundering.
And boy does she flounder, like a fish flopping around on a boat, she flounders.  The structure of the film is basically made up of a series of scenes that are defined by the many different locations she is forced to move to and from as she tries to figure her life out.  She has no stability and no future.  But she is Frances Ha, which means that no matter what else, she never gives up.  No matter how foolish and stupid she looks, she never stops trying.  And she never loses her most endearing trait: her sincerity.    In fact, it grows.  As she becomes more and more annoying and unlikeable, and becomes less and less stable (like panicking and flying to Paris on the spur of a moment’s notice—a wonderful set of scenes, and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve done that), she just becomes more and more sincere.  Meanwhile all the people she knows, as they become more and more stable, they become less and less sincere, become as pretentious as the black and white photography used to film them.  And soon Frances becomes the most likeable and sympathetic character in the movie because she’s about the only one with a heart.  
There is a nice supporting cast here, with an always more than welcome Adam Driver (Lena Dunham’s sort of, kind of on again, off again boyfriend in Girls) and Michael Zegen as Frances’s callow second set of roommates as well as Charlotte d’Amboise as a choreographer who cuts to the chase like a knife (she’s the only other really likeable character in the story, probably because she is just as sincere as Francis—hell, she doesn’t have time to be anything but).  And on a bit of trivia note, Frances’ parents are played by Ms. Gerwig’s own.
But in the end, of course, it’s Gerwig who holds the movie together.   True, she exudes so much charm it might be wise to wear a radiation suit while watching the movie, but she is pretty marvelous, more than willing to let herself look foolish and unflattering.  At the same time, I’m not fully convinced that Frances has earned her happy ending (which is perhaps more bitter sweet than happy, but still, the point still stands).  There seems to be a step missing, the one moment where Francis realizes she has been backed into a corner and has to make a decision she doesn’t want to make; this seems to happen off screen.  At the same time, Gerwig has earned so much good will from the audience, it’s almost impossible to not want her to land on her feet.  Dramatically the movie may not have earned it, but Gerwig herself has and that’s good enough for me.
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