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Frances Ha - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published July 12th 2013
A Gen Y RomCom
Director: Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Kicking and Screaming)
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver

Frances Ha is getting a lot of comparisons to the TV series Girls, and it's not hard to see why. The titular character could easily have come out of the mind of Lena Dunham. She's a creative, socially awkward, under-achieving but effortlessly hip New Yorker whose quick with a witty one-liner, but not so good at maintaining harmonious friendships, let alone getting a boyfriend.

Frances Ha Noah Baumbach Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig as Frances Ha


Frances Ha also owes a lot to Woody Allen films of the 70s, and not just because it's set in Manhattan, filmed in black and white and features characters who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol in the afternoon. It's celebration of unconventional women and resistance to a predictable story arc are also reminiscent of Allen's earlier work. Character development is often shown through a series of quick cuts in social settings rather than conversations, although the dialogue is often clever and charming.

Frances Ha, the character, by her own admission "makes bad decisions". Unfortunately for us, that often means the most engaging people are cut out of the story too soon. Just when you're really enjoying the dynamic of one coupling or group of people, Frances has made another ill-judged manoeuvre. For someone who takes a lot of time to leave a room, she never stays in one place for too long. To illustrate this, the story chapters are simply addresses - a series of places she has wound up in while aimlessly drifting from one unfulfilled scenario to the next.

Frances Ha Adam Driver Michael Zegen
Michael Zegen and Adam Driver as two of Frances' many flatmates


The result is a little unfulfilling for the audience too. It's best just to enjoy Frances for her quirks and not expect much in the way of deeply felt relationships. This is where the comparisons to Lena Dunham end. While Dunham seems to make a point of taking her clothes off at any given opportunity, Frances persists in keeping a comfortable distance between herself and any potential suitors. Her independence is refreshing, but in no way does it mean she's got her act together.

Frances Ha Greta Gerwig Mickey Sumner
Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig "like an old lesbian couple that doesn't have sex"


Much of the film's appeal lies in the performance of Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the script. If you don't latch on to her idiosyncratic persona, then you're in for a tough time. For many though, Gerwig is an actress for a new generation. Her dry delivery and sexual indifference are a far cry from the Meg Ryans and Sandra Bullocks of years gone by.

Many a 20-something femme will key into this voyage of self-discovery, but for many others, Frances is just as likely to bore or annoy.

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Why? To see rising star Greta Gerwig
Where: At selected cinemas
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