A friendship with Wes Anderson has gotten Noah Baumbach a long way. The director has long been experimenting with many of the forms that have defined the Andersonian tone, references to the French New Wave, homages to filmmakers such as Scorsese, and so on, with the main difference between the two is that Baumbach’s world is more in depth with reality. Frances Ha, the newest movie by the filmmaker, exhibits many of the traits Baumbach has built over the years and almost plays as a remake of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Its attempt for greatness isn’t completely successful, as often times the picture loses its footing, but Frances Ha is a charming comedy.
Greta Gerwig, who wrote the screenplay with Baumbach, plays the title character, an eccentric 27-year college graduate trying to find a career as a dancer in New York City. Frances lives in an apartment with her best friend Sofie (Mickey Sumner), who is just as giddy and upbeat as her (the two constantly run around Manhattan playing and pulling pranks on each other in a beautifully filmed montage). At one point, Frances declares that she and Sofie are like “a lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex anymore,” a deep comparison for a deep friendship.
Yet Frances’ life soon goes astray as Sofie decides to move out of the apartment with another friend in Tribeca. Frances first moves in with two hipsters, played by Adam Driver and Michael Zegen, but after some financial woes caused by her difficulty as a dancing apprentice is forced to move elsewhere.
Despite the many allusions to Jean-Luc Godard, Frances Ha actually bears more resemblance to another comedy in 2013, The World’s End, which came a few months later. They have protagonists struggling to mature in a grown-up world. That comparison ends there (after all, The World’s End does involve a Body Snatchers-like plot), but the idea is core to both films. Frances’ childlike approach to life renders her constantly in debt and in trouble as she distances herself from everyone around her. Gerwig plays the part of Frances perfectly, evoking the adolescent innocence of her character while maintain the quirky tone. Sam Levy’s black and white cinematography also helps reveal the strife of Frances; the saturated colors much evoke the bleakness of New York as well as many of the silent comedies by Charlie Chaplin.
For all its strengths, though, I felt that Frances Ha never really evenly balances the realism and fantasies of its characters and wanders in many scenes (Frances’ trip to Paris and her Christmas vacation don’t really have any real importance in the picture). Often times the characters grow a bit overbearing and hard too relate too and there feels to be a lack of connection between them; a hinted romance between Gerwig and Zegen never moves anywhere.
Yet for all of its flaws, Frances Ha is continuously enjoyable. Noah Baumbach isn’t quite as adept as Wes Anderson, but he certainly is greatly improving as a filmmaker.