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Frances Ha

May 3, 2014

Frances Ha (2012)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Actors: Greta Garwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver

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Synopsis: Frances (Greta Garwig), a seemingly ‘happy go lucky’ company dancer in New York, experiences a relatively turbulent number of months – where she drifts apart from her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), she moves between two or three different living situations, and her elongated status as student dancer is slowly coming to an end…

Review: Beneath the strived for urban coolness in Frances Ha‘s reasonably straightforward homage to the French Nouvelle Vague and Woody Allen’s Manhattan, lurks a dramatically more nuanced and studied work than might initially seem apparent. It’s a pretty good piece about those rapidly diminishing days in your late twenties when you slip almost unwittingly from that mental state where the future is some far off place that will somehow take care of itself, to the arrival of a discomforting, persistent anxiety about manifesting the building blocks of your adult life in the present.

Contrary to one or two misjudged reviews that have taken Baumbach’s direction as some kind of unquestioning valorisation of Frances’ skittishness, it’s a much more detached, almost subtly poignant, charting of her journey and psychology. Baumbach particularly excels in his brilliant use of chronological ellipses. We suddenly go from one scene where Frances is bemoaning the fact that her bachelorette idyll with best friend Mickey in Brooklyn is soon to be over, to a jump forward in time with Frances in the very same apartment where she’s been doing the bemoaning to two male friends, only for us to realise she’s now living with them some months down the line. Frances’ sojourn home to Sacramento also has a potency in pinpointing the way young people return as de facto ‘conquering heroes’ from the big city, when, in reality, Frances desperately needs the succour of parental support and some good hometown friendship at that point in time (I actually wish Baumbach had made the Sacramento segment much longer, rather than the brief impressionistic montage it is that contrasts ironically with Frances’ life in NYC).

Arguably my favourite segment though is in Frances’ slapdash idea to fly to Paris, naively inspired by a dinner table conversation with raffish friends who have an apartment there, and because she’s just received a dodgy credit card in the mail that will finance the flight. Frances does it on such a whim, she only allows herself two days there, and loses most of her time through jet-lag and the sleeping pill she takes to combat it, that it proves a witty, but wise and sad counterpoint to the cliché of characters having spiritual epiphanies in the City of Lights. (May 2014)

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