Frances Ha


Frances Ha: Frances Ha: Frances Ha

Frances Ha

Directed by Noah Baumbach; written by Mr. Baumbach and Greta Gerwig; director of photography, Sam Levy; edited by Jennifer Lame; production design by Sam Lisenco; produced by Mr. Baumbach, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub and Rodrigo Teixeira; released by IFC Films. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes.

WITH: Greta Gerwig (Frances), Mickey Sumner (Sophie), Patrick Heusinger (Patch), Adam Driver (Lev), Michael Zegen (Benji) and Grace Gummer (Rachel).

New York Times Review

With Greta Gerwig

If 27 Is Old, How Old Is Grown Up?

One day an unexpected tax refund arrives in the mail, and Frances, giddy over this windfall, decides to spend it treating a young man to dinner. (His name is Lev, he is played by Adam Driver, and this is the only time I will mention Lena Dunham or “Girls” in this review.) The restaurant rejects her credit card and won’t take a debit card, so Frances sets off through the black-and-white streets of New York in search of an A.T.M. Sprinting back to the table, she trips and sprawls headlong onto the sidewalk, the full calamity of her fall blocked from the camera’s view by a parked car. Then she gets up and keeps running. There are a few reasons to note this scene, from “Frances Ha,” the new film directed by Noah Baumbach and written by him and Greta Gerwig, who plays the title character. (Her last name, by the way, is not Ha. The movie’s title is explained in its lovely final shot.)

The first is that Ms. Gerwig, who has effortless, behind-the-beat verbal timing, also possesses a knack for physical comedy, an enviable ability to obliterate the difference between clumsiness and grace. (Frances is an aspiring dancer, which Ms. Gerwig makes seem both plausible and ridiculous.)

The second is that Mr. Baumbach, in many ways a cerebral and writerly filmmaker, is not one to shy away from a well-placed pratfall. And finally, Frances’s tumble, at once charming and alarming, is a miniature of the film itself.

In the course of a little less than a year, Frances, heedlessly skipping through her 20s, suddenly falls down and feels the impact of reality. Or maturity. Or some other hard fact that she might have acknowledged before, but mostly for other people, or for later.

“Twenty-seven is old,” someone says, and while that may in some sense be true, it is also true that 27 is not as old as it used to be. A few short generations ago members of the American middle class could be expected to reach that age in possession of a career, a spouse and at least one child, unless they were rock stars, in which case they would be dead.

But for Frances and her cohort of vaguely artistic, post-collegiate New Yorkers, precocity has become its own form of arrested development. They are clever and curious, but also complacent, content to drift through jobs and relationships as they camouflage their anxiety with easy sarcasm and overdone enthusiasm. Mr. Baumbach has explored this territory before, most notably in “Kicking and Screaming,” his first feature, released when he was in his mid-20s, almost 20 years ago. And what has been called the quarter-life crisis is a common enough theme these days.

But “Frances Ha,” Mr. Baumbach’s least overtly autobiographical film as a director, is not primarily an act of generational portraiture, on his part or Ms. Gerwig’s. It is entirely caught up in the individuality of its heroine, who is viewed with affectionate detachment, and in the details of her environment, which are given a romantic lift by Sam Levy’s supple, shadowy monochrome cinematography and a musical soundtrack borrowed mostly from the great French film composer Georges Delerue.

With its swift, jaunty rhythms and sharp, off-kilter jokes, “Frances Ha” is frequently delightful. Ms. Gerwig and Mr. Baumbach are nonetheless defiant partisans in the revolt against the tyranny of likability in popular culture. Frances is neither blandly agreeable nor adorably quirky. Rather, like Roger Greenberg (in Mr. Baumbach’s “Greenberg”) — but not at all like him, because she is a completely different person — she is difficult. She hogs conversations, misses obvious social cues and is frequently inconsiderate, though more in the manner of an overgrown toddler than a queen-bee mean girl.

One of her sometime roommates, Benji (Michael Zegen), calls her “undateable,” and for most of the movie she is romantically unattached, having broken up with an irrelevant boyfriend in an early scene. Really, she has made an easy choice between him and her best friend, Sophie (the marvelously spiky Mickey Sumner), setting herself up for heartache when Sophie in effect chooses a man over her. Frances and Sophie, who live together at the start of the movie, are more than best friends.

“We’re the same person,” Frances likes to say, and she also likes to imagine that theirs will be a lifelong love story, technically chaste but always passionate and fulfilling.

Then Sophie moves in with her boyfriend, Patch (Patrick Heusinger), who becomes her fiancé and takes her to Tokyo. Frances is left to improvise, and also to learn some hard lessons, none of which are terribly surprising in hindsight, but most of which she still somehow fails to anticipate. She bounces from one living situation to another, briefly to Paris and to Sacramento for Christmas with her parents (played by Ms. Gerwig’s own parents). Her professional progress is as precarious as her social life.

Frances’s circumstances often seem to be at war with her sense of entitlement, the idea, no doubt carefully nurtured by sympathetic parents and progressive schools, that her specialness makes her immune to failure. It is painful to watch the world challenging this view, even as it is also hard not to be on the side of the world. But the spirit of the film is more wry than punitive, and it is in the end less a satire or a cautionary tale than a bedtime story for young adults. It will all work out. Twenty-seven is young. Frances will have the last laugh.