Frances Ha

“Frances Ha,” a film released in 2013, features Greta Gerwig as the title character, a 27-year-old dancer attempting to make it in New York City. She lives with her best friend from college, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who works in the publishing business while apprenticing with a dance troupe and teaching dance lessons on the side. Frances is likable, witty and unpredictable, which differs greatly from the hipsters and other pretentious characters (including her best friend Sophie) that she spends her time cavorting with in this black and white movie.

Greta Gerwig plays Frances in "Frances Ha."

Greta Gerwig plays Frances in “Frances Ha.”

The film opens with Frances and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) partying around New York City. They talk like old friends even though I sensed that they could easily take divergent paths. For one thing, Sophie clings to a serious relationship with her boyfriend, Patch (Patrick Heusinger), while Frances is on a verge of a breakup with her own boyfriend. That makes Frances more needy for the friendship, but Sophie wants to move to Tribeca with Patch because she always dreamed of living in an apartment there. Frances shacks up with a writer and another hipster who let her sleep on their couch. The writer hopes to get on Saturday Night Live, and makes jokes with Frances about how she’s “undatable” and they are not going to have sex.

When Sophie announces she’s moving to Tokyo with Patch, Frances faces a minor crisis that propels her to rush home to Sacramento for Christmas. There, she experiences typical holiday activities that serve as a useful break to her chaotic New York life. The movie starts to really work for me when she returns and attends a hilariously staged dinner party where Frances blurts out opinions that would shock and surprise the hipster guests if only they were sensitive enough to understand her comments. I don’t know who wrote most of the movie from this point on (Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach are the screenwriters), but I enjoy the post-Sacramento scenes more than the earlier ones.

On short notice, Frances decides to fly to Paris for a couple of days, hoping to meet up with friends, but she misses her connections and ends up spending most of her time in Paris alone. When she returns, the director of her dance troupe fires her, and then she takes off to Poughkeepsie t0 host donors at her alma mater, Vassar College. Here, she gets her chance for redemptive moments with both Sophie and nature.

Enough goes on in Frances Ha to keep the movie interesting for its 86 minute running time. It has a good script and Gerwig is thoroughly watchable throughout; she’s in every single scene. I don’t think it makes much of a difference to the overall effect that the filmmakers opted for black and white photography, except that it looks good, especially in the interior shots. The extreme likability of Gerwig’s Frances helps the picture immensely, because the other characters do not stand out as very nice, compatible or helpful.

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