From left to right: Mickey Sumner as Sohpie and Greta Gerwig as Frances in Frances Ha
Auteur Noah Baumbach’s last directorial effort, Greenberg, was somewhat of a disappointment for me. It seemed to revel in its attempts at edginess and semi-sarcasm. By sanding off the edges that definitely could have existed in Frances Ha, I think Baumbach has made a masterpiece.
The movie imagines another version of the person Greta Gerwig portrayed in Greenberg, a character she’s built a career on. Frances Halladay is a New York dancer in her late-twenties who’s beginning to realize that the social cues she can’t pick up on might soon be her psychological undoing. She assumes that her boyfriend wants to part ways after she rejects his offer for them to move in together. From then on, she seems to define herself based on where she lives in an attempt to hide her feelings toward her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Sophie, her college roommate and one-time apartment partner, has moved in with her boyfriend-turned-fiancée and left Frances feeling cold and ignored. Frances is a sensitive person, but Baumbach and Gerwig show her to be three-dimensional and not just quirk for quirk’s sake. Her falling out with Sophie leads her on a mini-journey of self-discovery which thankfully has almost nothing to do with men.
Frances Ha is about a woman finding her niche, and it’s a parallel narrative to Baumbach’s career. I think he’s one of the better screenwriters working today, having lent his talents to his own minimalist, humanist narratives in addition to such vastly different films as Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. He has a real knack for dialogue in the same way Woody Allen does – he understands the specific ways in which specific types of people speak and what they think about. More often than not, his perspective feels truthful without being too harsh. With Frances, he’s made a movie – and a character – that perfectly balances heart, spunk, and honesty.