If you want to oversimplify “Frances Ha” you could say that it is a cinematic version of the HBO series “Girls.” Both deal with emotionally and socially stunted post-collegiate women living in New York City nurturing vague artistic dreams of fame and success.
While watching moderately obnoxious white girls struggle with maturity has its moments, “Frances Ha” accomplishes in less than 90 minutes what “Girls” has failed to do in two seasons; which is have its main character kinda-sorta get her act together.
You can argue the merits of long-form versus short-form but in this instance, I greatly prefer “Frances Ha” because frankly, that’s about as long as I can spend with these characters before wanting to start slapping people.
“Frances Ha” stars Greta Gerwig as the titular Frances, an aspirational dancer without much talent or income. When we first meet her she is reveling in a platonic love affair with her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, who just so happens to be Sting’s daughter).
The two wile away the days play-fighting in the park, smoking cigarettes on the fire escape, and watching movies in bed. Frances’ world begins to crumble when Sophie starts to get more serious with her boyfriend and eventually moves out when the promise of a better apartment presents itself.
Unable to afford a place on her own, Frances bounces around crashing on couches and attending awkward dinner parties; all while her dream of making it as a dancer drifts further and further away from her.
Even though she is 27, Frances looks and acts like a giant 12-year-old. It’s oddly endearing because it’s not that she seems unwilling to grow up, but more that she is completely incapable of being an adult.
Gerwig wrote, “Francis Ha” along with director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) who has built a reputation as being talented and moderately obsessive. He shot the movie in black and white, making it reminiscent of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” and composes almost the entire film out of short scenes and vignettes.
Ultimately, this movie lives or dies with Gerwig who succeeds with what could have been an unlikeable or pitiful character. She plays Frances without an ounce of pretension. She wants to be a dancer, not because she envisions herself a prodigy or as the voice of her generation, but because that’s what she wanted to be as a little girl and just never came up with anything better to do.
“Frances Ha” is about the inevitability of adulthood; it can be postponed, but it can’t be avoided. The question then becomes do we futilely continue to reject it, become crushingly burdened by it, or warmly embrace it?
While the “problems” of white, hipster New Yorkers in their late 20s aren’t exactly the most relatable, Gerwig makes Frances a character worth rooting for. She’s funny, oddly charming and, even though she is painfully clueless, she makes it where you don’t hate yourself for wanting things to turn out all right for her in the end.
Frances turns out to be one of those people where seeing her find her way is a lot more satisfying than seeing her achieve their dream.
“Frances Ha” is rated R for sexual references and language.