Frances Ha

Frances Ha


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The sparkling Frances Ha is Noah Baumbach's latest poem to New York, to movies, and to friendship. Shot in black and white, you can't help but compare it to Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), a comparison Baumbach doesn't mind, as he explained his motivation at the New York Film Festival press conference:

"I hadn't shot in New York in a while, and I grew up here and live here, so I wanted it to feel the way I feel about New York. I haven't run through Chinatown holding my friend's hand laughing, or peed off a subway platform, but I have that same general feeling about the place in other ways."

Copy picture

The person who does all of the above (and is careful not to hit the third rail) is Frances, played by co-screenwriter Greta Gerwig, in a whirlwind-with-clogs performance that is funny and tender and real. "Which Virginia Woolf novel are we in?" she asks at one point, and doesn't get an answer. A Room Of One's Own, of course, because the film is one giant adventurous search for an apartment in New York City, and includes many of the themes Woolf addresses in her extended essay from 1929.

Early on, we see two photos of cats. "You need to get two cats," Frances's soon-to-be ex-boyfriend insists. He already made a down payment on the cats. "Maybe you could move in with me?"

"Animals have to talk" for Frances to care.

"I think women doing anything other than falling in love is underrepresented across the board," said Greta Gerwig at the press conference. The most important relationship Frances has in the film is with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner).

They start out as roommates on 682 Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, an address near Prospect Park, until a beckoning apartment in Tribeca, on Sophie's "favorite street," destroys the idyll. Frances, an apprentice for a dance company, is unable to afford the rent alone and has to move when Sophie moves out.

For the audience, there are many entry ways into the movie. Baumbach and Gerwig invite identification in overlapping realms. There is, for example, Frances Ha for the New York lover and Frances Ha for the movie lover. You can enter through the objects, like an Eames chair or three pairs of Ray Bans, bought online. Or through the religious conflict inherent in a bacon bagel.

At the press conference, I questioned Gerwig about the comic timing and the physicality she gives Frances - largely determined by her choice of shoes.

Gerwig laughed and explained the heavy clogs, preferred by "waitresses, nurses and dancers" and the big bomber jacket she wears as "physical limitations," then added: "My mom hates clogs and backpacks and leather jackets. I made a movie just for her."

The New York lover will enjoy the Citarella grocery bags, the laundromat, the run for an ATM in Chinatown, that prompts the date's question, if she had to "go to Switzerland?," Bryant Park yoga, a "kettle from the Mexican superstore", Moishe's Self Storage, and the following dialogue - "You smoke inside? This makes me feel like a bad mother in 1987."

"This apartment is very aware of itself," says Frances, and the movie lover will think of Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Jean-Claude Brialy with her new roommates, who are modeled after Jean-Luc Godard's Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961).

Are the characters themselves aware of it? Is the Belmondo hat and demeanor a choice by Lev (Adam Driver) who likes to parade his handsomeness in a towel? Most likely. "Do us another dance," they say to Frances and she obliges. Characters who prepare "sample skits for SNL" and work on a draft of a script for Gremlins III know their Nouvelle Vague. A poster for Truffaut's L'argent De Poche (1976) confirms, and Baumbach admitted at the conference: "I feel I'm always thinking Truffaut."

There is a weekend trip to Paris in Frances Ha, that must be unique in film history for its complete blandness, which is very funny. We see her get into an elevator, then she mostly sleeps in her acquaintance's apartment on Rue Vaugirard until schoolchildren outside the window wake her in the afternoon. She drags herself to the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Flore, and gets a phone call in the taxi on her way to the airport to go back to the US. It is an invitation to an exciting party "The one who looks like Jean-Pierre Léaud … you should meet … this is such good timing."

The filmmaker calls Frances Ha his movie "about location and dislocation, moving forward but also moving in place. I think all of that is true about my experiences in New York City."

Baumbach doesn't shoot landmarks or treat you like a tourist. You can look for Audubon Avenue or Catherine Street on a map.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2012
Share this with others on...
Lightning-in-a-bottle, Noah Baumbach’s love poem to his star and co-writer Greta Gerwig recalls Godard’s early celebrations of Anna Karina, but, as a New York movie, it’s beautiful in a brand new way.
Amazon link

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Patrick Heusinger, Teddy Cañez, Hannah Dunne, Grace Gummer, William Todd Levinson, Marina Squerciati, Finnerty Steeves

Year: 2012

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: US

Search database: