Review: FRANCES HA

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest collaboration with his girlfriend,  writer/director/actress Greta Gerwig proves to be a successful one. Their collaboration, a film titled Frances Ha, takes mumblecore and channels it through the aesthetics of Woody Allen, cinematographer Gordon Willis (Manhattan), and French New Wave cinema, particularly the work of Francois Truffaut.  The result is an absolutely lovable and charming jaunt of a film that allows Greta Gerwig’s bubbly, neurotic and sweet personality to shine at its brightest.

Gerwig portrays the titular Frances, a twenty-something-year old New Yorker who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, but has faced several obstacles in achieving this goal.  Frances undergoes a crisis of sorts as she and her boyfriend Dan (Michael Esper) have broken up and her super-close best friend/roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) plans to move in with her boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger).  Frances, who barely makes ends meet working at a dance studio, eventually hops between friends’ homes and is forced to take less desirable jobs to survive. Nevertheless, despite life’s frustrations, she remains undaunted in the pursuit of her career and romantic dreams.

Baumbach and Gerwig prove to be a tremendous team when it comes to the writing of this film. The well constructed script and the excellent direction by Baumbach allows Gerwig and her entire cast to perform beautifully. This is mumblecore at its finest. The snappy and witty dialogue plays out realistically and naturally. I must tip my hat to this exceptional cast who are obviously quite skilled at improvisation.  The show truly belongs to Gerwig, though, whose performance is absolutely wonderful. I would compare her to a female Woody Allen character who is often awkward, a tad goofy, neurotic, but sweet and adorable. If Gerwig is anything at all like her character here, I could see myself easily falling in love with her.

As I stated before, Baumbach clearly pays homage to the work of French director Francois Truffaut, even using the music of composer Georges Delerue who composed music for some of Truffaut’s films.  The black and white cinematography by Sam Levy gives the movie a subdued, but classic look which is not only another tribute to Truffaut, but also serves as homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan whose own cinematography is inspired by that of French New Wave. Fans of this film movement will recognize these characteristics and should enjoy their employment in the movie.

As I enjoyed watching the life of Truffaut’s character Antoine Doinel grow up and experience different stages of life in The 400 Blows, Love at Twenty, and the rest of his saga, I would love to see further life adventures of Frances Ha. Even though the film only intends to give us a glimpse of Frances in this stage of her life, it left me wanting more. When one falls in love with a character, it would be wonderful to experience more of her life and times.

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