As one of my freelance gigs, I share the film beat for The Lady with Barry Norman, writing a review every fortnight. I don’t usually post work on here, but bloody hell – Frances Ha felt so utterly tangled up in my own life that it feels part of this blog. MAN.
Lo! The review.
Frances Ha – four stars, The Lady
Seeing this, and the Menier Chocolate Factory’s superb revival of The Color Purple in the same week, did terrible things to my tear ducts. I had to have a stiff whisky after watching Frances Ha.
Despite the poster giving off the deceptive air of a screwball comedy, Frances Ha captures the horror of financial uncertainty and loneliness in your 20s so perfectly that it’s like having a bandage ripped off, and memories you’d long-buried come back to life. What takes this a step beyond the hit HBO drama Girls, which tackles the same issues among early 20-somethings, is that Frances is 27, old enough to feel she should have got somewhere, and that every smart young New Yorker we meet feels like a person, rather than a caricature.
Frances (Greta Gerwig from last year’s Damsels In Distress) is an apprentice at a modern dance company. Outside dance, her life is bound up with that of her best friend Sophie, who works in publishing. An opening montage shows their gorgeous life, all secrets and love, and living ‘like married lesbians who don’t have sex’. It’s enviable from the outside, and you can half-see why Frances turns down her boyfriend’s suggestion that she move in. But when Sophie announces that she’s planning to move to a pricier neighbourhood with another friend, Frances is cast in the role of the outsider looking in. Her glass is permanently half-full, like a modern Pollyanna with more clumsiness, but slowly that glass springs a leak as life moves on and her dreams fall apart.
Noah Baumbach’s previous films have included absolute monsters. From Nicole Kidman in Margot And The Wedding, to Ben Stiller in Greenberg (also starring Gerwig, in a minor role), unlikeability looms large. Not here. Frances is wobbly but not clueless and feels delightfully real: like an Annie Hall who is about much more than lost love. Baumbach and Gerwig have made their modern heroine a pin-up for when life becomes harder than just finding your next kiss.
This is a film about love without a central love affair, about sex without a single groan. This intangibility perfectly underpins Frances’s anguish at everything being just out of reach. A flatmate teases her about being ‘undateable’. Really, she’s hamstrung by her own life.
Baumbach and Gerwig handle the gentle puppeteering of Frances’s life by those cruel external forces exquisitely: her ambition to be a dancer is just out of reach. Her best friend floats away in a fog of banker fiancé and foreign travel. Frances moves from home to home pursued by a lack of money. ‘But you’re not poor!’ insists the teasing flatmate from earlier, with his Eames chair and wealthy parents.
If this were a different film, Frances might have thrown herself and her permanently attached backpack off a bridge. Instead, she has that rare thing in films about 20-somethings on a ‘journey’: gumption. By the end of the film, the undateable idea is revisited and Frances is so gorgeously grown into herself that the joke melts against her. But oh – the horrible agony of having lived through it at all. And the gratitude that comes from emerging on the other side.