Movies: "Frances Ha" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Frances Ha"
Movies: "Frances Ha"

 

Tall, broad-shouldered and a little ungainly, Greta Gerwig plays Frances, and though she’s surrounded by friends and acquaintances throughout this movie, it’s practically a one-woman show.  (Gerwig also co-wrote the screenplay with her boyfriend, director Noah Baumbach.)

 

When we first meet her, Frances -- an understudy with a modern dance group -- is sharing a Brooklyn apartment with her best friend from Vassar, Sophie (Mickey Sumner, who happens to be Sting’s daughter) and dating a guy named Dan.  But both situations sputter out, leaving Frances with no place to stay and no boyfriend either.  Her dance prospects don’t look so hot either.

 

But whatever befalls her social and professional life, this young woman somehow perseveres.  She joins up with two male roommates, one of whom (Michael Esper) repeatedly describes her as “undatable.”  Impulsively, Frances leaves New York for home in Sacramento (Gerwig’s actual parents play her mother and father), and later makes a lonely two-day visit to Paris.  Jet-lagged, she sleeps through the first one.

 

It all sounds kinda depressing, right?  Wrong. 

 

That’s because director Baumbach was inspired here by the 1960s French New Wave films of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who made similar character-driven stories of love gained and lost with a creative energy that revitalized filmmaking here at home:  “Bonnie and Clyde” was also inspired by those Frenchies.  The tipoff with “Frances Ha” is its gritty black and white New York scenes, shot on the run by cinematographer Sam Levy, and much of its music by the late French composer Georges Delerue, who scored Truffaut’s masterpiece “Jules and Jim” among more than 300 other movies.  (The movies also features David Bowie’s “Modern Love” as a sort of coda.)

 

So Frances’s very personal story unfolds with high energy, wit and sparkling intelligence.  All these young urbanites are smart, erudite and often very funny and Gerwig (most recently seen in 2011’s “Damsels in Distress”) is the funniest of them all.  She abolutely dominates this movie, whether taking a pratfall while running to an ATM blithely dancing her way across Manhattan, or drunkenly telling a dinner party about her various friends’ relationships.  She is simply terrific here.

 

And let’s hear it for Noah Baumbach too.  His earlier film with Gerwig (“Greenberg”) was not so hot, but hey, he also directed the brilliant “The Squid and the Whale” and wrote the screenplay for one of the best animated movies ever, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  “Frances Ha” may have been a labor of love for him, but his love is just as much for movies as it may be for Greta Gerwig.

 

“Frances Ha” is rated R for adult language and situations.  I give it an A, and recommend that you check it out before all our movie houses are overrun with summertime zombies and/or superheroes.

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