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frances ha2013

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen

In her second creative collaboration with writer/director Noah Baumbach, Hollywood’s greatest outsider, Greta Gerwig, gives an admirably understated performance in what is simultaneously one of the most stylish and subtle films of 2013. As Frances Halladay, a character that lives life one bumpy day at a time, Gerwig shines with her customary easy on-screen presence and an endearing lack of charm that is, ironically, rather charming.

Frances is a 27-year-old contemporary ‘dancer’ living in Brooklyn with her best-friend Sophie. The two are inseparable, ‘married’ in a friendship formed when the two were in college, but when Sophie decides to move out to live with another friend in a more enviable neighbourhood, an invisible barrier starts to push the two apart. Frances is left on her own where she realises that her life isn’t going anywhere and her contemporaries are leaving her behind. She bounces hopelessly from pillar to post, going from Chinatown to Sacramento, to Paris and back to New York, as her struggles with money and friendship persist and her so-called dreams of being a dancer become increasingly non-existent.

The story might not be the solid, punchy narrative many are looking for, drifting from scene to scene in a manner that might suggest a continuous method of improvisation, but there’s no lack of style here. The uninterrupted monochrome effect initially feels horribly out of place, softening the urban harshness associated with New York City, but those same black and white visuals eventually become the best part of the film. The lack of colour works most successfully in the scenes where dance and narrative collide, both in the studio rehearsals and when Frances is randomly dancing through the street. Who would have thought that Greta Gerwig haphazardly performing split-leaps across the pavement would be so entertaining?! It’s all very Kevin Bacon-esque circa 1984 – pure magic!

It’s not all about style though and thankfully there’s still plenty of substance to hold Frances Ha together. The entire cast work as one to create a tangible sense of what it’s like to exist in New York. Adam Driver and Michael Zegan in particular stand out as Lev and Benji, the friends Frances first moves in with after Sophie abandons her. Both characters are charismatic and frank in their attitudes to Frances and life in general, and they epitomise young creative people living in the big city.

The charm of the film ultimately comes down to Greta Gerwig and her ability to draw the viewer in to her character’s very ordinary, slightly skew-whiff world, a quality also shared by the likes of Lena Dunham and Zoe Kazan. Gerwig does struggling twenty-something very well and Frances is quite similar to Girls’ Hannah Horvath, only less promiscuous and more reserved. These characters are young women falling from one day to another, running to keep up with a world that’s ready to leave them behind if they stumble. What comes across so well in the film is that real sense of fear that life’s passing you by too quickly and it’s almost comforting to see Frances dealing with a very normal and unexciting struggle. You don’t need CGI and fancy twists to make this work.

Frances Ha might not present a narrative in the traditional sense, but if you stick with the ride it’s a strangely rewarding conclusion. The result of Baumbach and Gerwig’s partnership, both on and off screen, is a hipster’s dream – a stylishly disjointed film that is as satisfying to watch as it must have been to create.

Frances Ha is out on DVD on the 6th January. 

★★★★

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