Noah Baumbach’s delightful new film Frances Ha might loosely be classified as a romantic comedy.
But it’s wittier than the standard offering without ever striving for belly-laughs, and its central character is preoccupied with a longstanding, non-sexual relationship with another woman. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a 27-year-old postgraduate dancer who is living from hand to mouth in Brooklyn.
She has been sharing an apartment with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), another ‘undateable’, and together they are, in their own words, like an old lesbian couple. Frances’s lack of cash is in conflict with her flighty but faltering aspiration to be a choreographer – and her focus does not include finding Mr Right.
That a female protagonist might not be consumed by searching for a guy is a radical, overdue departure for the genre and it allows Frances to be seen as much more than just a girl waiting to fall into a bloke’s arms.
After splitting up with Sophie, Frances is ‘lost’, in the sense that she does not know whither she is drifting. She smokes, drinks probably too much and, though socially adept, she is lonely – the brief interlude in which she goes into debt to cover a weekend in Paris poignantly conveys the isolation she feels.
Frances, however, is a survivor and, even with her at times annoying traits, you can’t help hoping the best for her. Gerwig co-wrote the screenplay and it’s hard to imagine that there is not more than a hint of autobiography in the story, especially given her mesmerising performance.
She is also drop-dead gorgeous and Sam Levy’s seductive B&W cinematography highlights her subtle drifts between strength and frailty. When Frances finally has a work staged off-Broadway, the result is emotionally affecting in a way that I’ve not experienced in watching contemporary dance.
The trickiest challenge for all of us as we negotiate life’s ebb and flow is to be ourselves. Frances, when it is not always the easiest path, rises to that challenge.
I loved her for it and I loved her movie.
~ John Campbell