Noah Baumbach’s indie film, Frances Ha, is a paean to friendship, female and male. It is a quirky tale about the transition from the dreams of youth to the realities of young adulthood. Filmed entirely in black and white, this slender and subtle movie, nonetheless tugs at the heartstrings.
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s script traces the friendship between Frances and Sophie, two Vassar graduates sharing an apartment in New York City, as they attempt to define themselves in careers, romance, and blossoming womanhood. Chronicling the many disappointments and difficulties of living in a big city, as well as the sometimes elusive nature of artistic ambition, the film’s heroine, Frances, manages to ferret out of ephemeral appearances the precious truths which do endure.
The script lives in its characters, most of all in Frances, a struggling second string modern dancer, played with disarming blend of naturalness and goofiness by Greta Gerwig. Gerwig’s sad, sweet, lonely persona has the substance to make the audience care about her little life, and she illuminates the shadows of the film with an inner radiance. She is heartrending in the scenes of her solitary weekend in Paris as the City of Light sparkles in the emotional void surrounding her. As her friend and foil, Sophie, Mickey Sumner has just the right gawky youthfulness and narcissism. Indeed, all the characters are beautifully cast with unconventionally attractive young actors, lending a visual as well as histrionic reality to the film. Particularly effective are Michael Zegen as Benji, Frances’ friend and potential beau, Adam Driver as Lev, and Patrick Heusinger as Patch. Gerwig’s real life parents play Frances’ solicitous mother and father in the film.
These touches of casting realism coupled with the camera work give the film a feeling of cinema verité. In fact, Baumbach seems indebted in many ways to the 60s New Wave auteurs both in the look of the film and in its leisurely pace and careful tension between darkness and humor. There are fleeting moments early on in the scenes of Frances’ and Sophie’s zany antics, underscored with lilting piano melodies, that call to mind the idyllic opening scenes of Truffaut’s Jules and Jim.
But happily, Frances Ha chooses redemption over tragedy as its destination. The characters at the end of the movie have sifted through their lives, casting away illusions and settling for – even embracing – new possibilities.