Noah Baumbach’s most recent creation, Frances Ha, is a modern take on the classic struggling-artist-in-New-York premise with a twist: not only do the characters talk of iPhones and Skype, but they also boat a tipsy, blasé attitude that is as impersonal as the city streets themselves. The epitome of this mindset is manifested through the clumsy Frances, whom Greta Gerwig ignites with a quality both down-to-earth and ditzy.
Frances bumbles through her late twenties with indirection and naivety as she struggles to stay grounded as a fluctuating “apprentice” of a dance company. She is soon shuffled along by the decision of her best friend (or more like her other half), Sophie, who leaves their beloved Manhattan apartment for her boyfriend’s. Slowly the two inseparables from university realise that they may not be “the same person” in entirety, as each is pushed to find their own path. Mickey Sumner’s sassy Sophie quickly scales the social ladder with her boyfriend’s prestigious job, whilst Frances is left to organise herself amongst fickle roommates and gloomy career prospects. But don’t fear: eventually the two women cross paths again–this time imbued with optimism that can only be formed through the trials and face palms of putting your life back in order, or at least trying to.
The comedy boasts moments that some would call charming (such as Frances’ characteristic “I’m not messy, I’m busy”), yet overall, the film feels too distanced. Although Baumbach intentionally captures Frances’ life with a wandering, bohemian quality that accesses all the dilemmas of a struggling dancer (“The only artists who can live in New York City are those who are rich”), some parts of the film are still a little fuzzy. The film’s black-and-white colouration could be seen as a way to merge the challenges of artistic life with the past and the present. But other than that the choice serves no true purpose, other than adding to the film’s “indie” quality, and visually enhancing shots of glittering Paris streetlights. Paris, you ask? Yes, Frances takes a random two-day trip to the French capital–a sequence that visually entertains but lacks conviction and relation to the plot. Other parts of the storyline are fairly unbelievable, such as Sophie’s overly drunk outrage at the visiting speaker of her alma matter.
…falls flat and lacks intellectual depth…
The dialogue is occasionally humorous but at many times it falls flat and lacks intellectual depth. The awkwardness of several conversations is deliberate given Frances’ out-of-touch personality. But even though the film’s characters are curiously off-beat and somewhat refreshing, Baumbach and Gerwig do not allow their potential to be fully realised through such evasive dialogue.
An aesthetically pleasing portrait of the bohemian of today, Frances Ha lightly amuses yet never packs any strong emotional punch. The characters are eccentric yet slightly too detached to create any empathy with the audience. Given higher stakes and sharper dialogue, the film could grow its seeds of subtle charm and find a stability not unwanted by the stumbling Frances herself.
Frances Ha is playing at select HMVCurzon, Cineworld, and Everyman cinemas.