Greta Gerwig has been on a rather poor run of form, with three consecutive showings in the disappointing To Rome With Love, the inadequate Lola Versus and the immensely self-indulgent Damsels in Distress. However such a run of mediocre productions seems to have come to an abrupt end, as she reunites with Greenberg director Noah Baumbach for Frances Ha; a film about a young woman reluctantly approaching adulthood, and struggling to leave her youth behind.
Frances (Gerwig) is a twenty-something living in New York with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) enjoying her life at home equally as much as her line of work, as she is an apprentice at a dance company. However when Sophie moves out to live with her new boyfriend, Frances is left to analyse her own life, as she begins to worry about her current predicament of not having a partner nor a stable job. Soon she can add an apartment to that undesired list, as she flirts in between flatmates, and though enjoying her time with Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen), she can never quite recapture her time spent with Sophie, in a world that feels like a lifetime ago.
Much of the reason why Frances Ha is a far more well-crafted and enjoyable piece of cinema than either Lola Versus or Damels in Distress, is that we actually sympathise with our protagonist, finding Frances endearingly tragic. All of the aforementioned titles are character studies, and they simply don’t work as a result of the leading star grating on you. She is much more likeable this time around, and perhaps that’s because she is somewhat pathetic – in a way we can all relate to. She isn’t supposed to be cool, nor is she revered by her peers, and instead we have quite the opposite, as someone who is looked down upon by many. She is naïve and makes the wrong decisions, and such flaws and imperfections endear us to her.
That isn’t to say she isn’t annoying – there is no denying that – but she has an alluring screen presence, and one that keeps us captivated, as we see Gerwig at arguably her most candid, reflected in that she uses her real parents as her own within the title. However, the characters who simply don’t have any redeeming features are the male ones, such as Lev and Benji. These so called artists, depict a world all too familiar, a horribly “cool” New York creative scene, a culture that is disgustingly self-aware.
The use of a black and white aesthetic could potentially be tarred with the same, pretentious brush, but instead it plays out as a mere homage to great filmmakers such as Woody Allen, using the cinematic style to play on the Hollywood romanticism of the famous, Manhattan setting. However Frances Ha never feels like a copy or imitation of such films, and instead is more respectful to filmmakers like Allen or Billy Wilder, who initially raised, and then firmly set the bar when it comes to depicting love in the state of New York, and the evident adulation of such auteur’s work adds to this film’s charm.
Where Baumbach excels finest, however, is how he truly gets to the core of the notion of leaving behind your carefree youth in turn for a lifetime of responsibility, with a poignant and pertinent message about that moment we must all face where we realise we are no longer 16 years old. A maturity, it seems, has been reflected by Gerwig as an actress, who will hopefully use Frances Ha as a springboard to make some more intelligent and heartfelt productions in the future – leaving some of her more unsatisfying pictures firmly behind her.