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FRANCES HA (director/writer: Noah Baumbach; screenwriter: Greta Gerwig; cinematographer: Sam Levy; editor: Jennifer Lame; cast: Greta Gerwig (Frances), Mickey Sumner (Sophie), Patrick Heusinger (Patch), Adam Driver (Lev), Michael Zegen (Benji), Grace Gummer (Rachel), Michael Esper (Dan), Christine Gerwig (Mom), Gordon Gerwig (Dad), Josh Hamilton (Andy), Britta Phillips (Nadia); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Noah Baumbach/Scott Rudin/Lila Yacoub/Rodrigo Teixeira; IFC Films; 2012)
“Agreeable low-budget modern-day urban comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noah Baumbach(“Margot at the Wedding”/”Greenberg”/”The Squid and the Whale”), the son of Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown and author Jonathan Baumbach, directs this agreeable low-budget modern-day urban comedy, an indie mumblecore film shot in black and white. It’s a writing collaboration between Baumbach and the film’s star Greta Gerwig. Though it offers a familiar story about singles trying to survive economically in the cold city while trying to make relationships it, on the other hand, refreshingly offers warm characters who are appealing, many off-beat comic moments and keenly observed poignant moments about distaff friendships and those young adults not ready to grow up.

Free-spirit and straight 27-year-old college friends from Vassar, Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter), share a humble Brooklyn apartment, and who so far have lived as rebels and strayed from permanent relationships with men. Things rapidly change when zany book editor Sophie falls for vulgarian rich businessman Patch (Patrick Heusinger) and fails to renew her lease on the apartment with Frances, as she moves to Manhattan’s Tribeca to room with him in a better flat and hipper neighborhood. This leaves klutzy apprentice dancer Frances on her own, as she just turned down an offer to live with an uninteresting guy (Michael Esper) because she didn’t want to abandon Sophie. Things get worse when Frances’s struggling indie dance company won’t give her work as promised, and she’s left unable to afford an apartment on her own. Frances’ aimless post-college day life is seriously challenged, as she remains outwardly cheery but inwardly hurting. Her new roommates are rich nice guy womanizing downtown artist Lev (Adam Driver) and TV writer Benji (Michael Zegen), who maintain a platonic relationship with her while dating others and playfully call her “undateable.” Feeling distressed and wanting to do something to change her bad luck, Frances visits for Christmas her nice suburban folks in Sacramento, California, on an impulse treks to Paris for a misspent week-end, and out of desperation returns to her college campus for a short stint working odd-jobs for the college. In the end, a humbled Frances at least manages to reconnect with her best friend Sophie and in a film like this with small ambitions that will have to suffice as a happy ending.

It’s delightful as far as it goes but, if it has a fault, it is that it never goes far enough for us to get beyond its exploratory study of love, friendship, marriage and careerism. It both applauds and warns against women straying too far from society norms, cautioning them how hurtful it can be if things go wrong and there’s no support system in place to catch them when they fall. It was awkwardly amusing watching the bumbling Frances stumble through her many difficult life situations, but it was even more painful than funny to take it all in. The coming-of-age pic shuns cynicism, but relentlessly depicts their heroine as sincerely kooky and someone we should believe will survive her ordeal because she’s resilient and has no choice but to follow her own spontaneous heart-felt urges. More than anything else, the transplanted New Yorker seems to have found a home not in the secure suburbs many of her classmates might have ended up through marriage but as a true struggling New Yorker dwelling without much income in the city’s mean streets.

Greta Gerwig’ stunning performance is energetic and like a dancer’s graceful pirouette, leaves us thrilled at the sight of a lovely young woman, with an innocent passion for life, to be still in the process of developing to be a real person. It’s rare when such a genuine pic is made and pulled off so successfully, that despite not saying enough about its main character’s observations it nevertheless deserves to be applauded for trying to say something real that’s happening in today’s more sophisticated urban settings.

If you watch the last shot, you will learn how the title was derived.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”