Tuesday 17 October 2017

Life isn't all ha ha for gawky Frances and her friends

Frances is a compelling mix of elegance and awkwardness
Frances is a compelling mix of elegance and awkwardness

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Frances Ha (15A, general release, 86 minutes) 4 STARS

New Yorkers love a bit of jargon, and it's in that city that the term 'quarter-life crisis' was invented. It refers to the apparently growing phenomenon of existential meltdowns among people too young to be worrying about such nonsense, and in Noah Baumbach's charming new comedy Greta Gerwig plays just such an unfortunate.

Frances is a 27-year-old aspiring dancer who lives in Brooklyn with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frances loves Sophie with a passion that borders on the obsessional.

It's not sexual – Frances has a drippy boyfriend who doesn't last too long – but the pair like to imagine themselves growing old together and remaining outrageously single.

But Frances' bubble is brutally burst when Sophie announces that she's moving in with someone else.

It's at this point we realise that Frances' seemingly charmed boho existence is actually a house of cards. She's on the big side for a dancer, and neither she nor her equally ditsy collection of friends are half as clever as they think. What she and they seem especially frightened of is having to grow up.

After Sophie leaves, Frances is forced to move out of their flat and ends up sharing with a couple of hipster Jewish boys.

She sleeps on the couch and cooks breakfast for the various guests who come and go, most of whom seem almost but not quite as lost as she is.

There's something of the idiot savant about Frances: she often speaks the truth but almost by accident, is socially inept in the extreme and liable to concoct an embarrassing scene at any moment.

She should be annoying but somehow isn't, and in fact is oddly easy to love.

The credit for this should go partly to Gerwig and Baumbach's elegant screenplay, but mainly to Gerwig's delightful and nuanced performance. She holds the film together with her note-perfect but seemingly accidental timing and her quite brilliant physical comedy.

As befits a failed dancer, her Frances is a compelling mix of elegance and awkwardness, and a nice pratfall sums her up perfectly.

Frances has gone on a date with a boy and forgotten to bring any money. When she's running back from the ATM she collapses spectacularly but oddly gracefully onto the pavement, the impact hidden by a passing car. But she's up again in moments, her optimism apparently irrepressible.

Baumbach's decision to shoot intimately in black and white is an obvious nod to Woody Allen's Manhattan, and Frances Ha would not look entirely out of place in such exalted company.

Whether or not it's his best, it's certainly his most likeable film to date.

DIRECTOR: NOAH BAUMBACH STARS: GRETA GERWIG, MICKEY SUMNER, ADAM DRIVER, MICHAEL ZEGAN

Irish Independent

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