'Frances Ha': Looking Back on the Spunky Coming-of-Age Comedy 11 Years Later
With the recent release of Barbie (2023) having taken the world by storm, I thought it'd be fun to look back on, in my opinion, the finest collaboration between its two writers, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. Though the former is most widely known for her mainstream success with her adaptations of the iconic Mattel doll, as well as her 2019 remake of Little Women, it's this low-budget darling that I think best represents her deeply human sensibilities as an actor and writer.
What's It About?
Inspired by Baumbach's adoration for films of the French New Wave, the film follows the aimless Frances (Gerwig) as she struggles to make a living, throwing herself headfirst into her dreams of heading a local dance company that she apprentices for. However, as she and her best friend/roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) start to go their separate ways, and Frances realizes her dreams may not come to fruition, she drifts from place to place and job to job.
What Works About It?
Frances Ha mainly works because of three things: the energetic momentum of the storytelling, which is conveyed through the editing and camerawork, along with Noah Baumbach's blocking of scenes and his naturalistic, relatable dialogue. New York City apartments aren't the most cinematic of settings, so he keeps actors moving in all different directions whilst they deliver their dialogue, which keeps us from getting bored. People constantly walk in and out of rooms as they speak, or go from brushing their teeth to plopping down in bed with a book. This has always been one of Baumbach's biggest strengths, and here it works in spades.
Characters also talk in what superficially feels like an unrehearsed fashion, about problems that a lot of us can relate to, especially if we're younger and trying to find our way. Whether we need to figure out our living situation or find a stable job to support ourselves, Frances is an easily identifiable protagonist, which is bolstered even more by Gerwig's simultaneously down-to-earth and sassy performance.
Speaking of the camerawork and editing, Baumbach films Frances' escapades with such a fast-moving and fly-on-the-wall perspective that feels quite reminiscent of the French cinematic era he clearly loves. Combined with a black-and-white color grade, this makes the film feel almost like a picture of yesteryear. Additionally, Jennifer Lame's editing keeps the story humming along with seamless momentum. We never feel like the pace lags, or like the film itself is as aimless as its heroine.
Honestly, I don't think there's really anything I dislike about this film. It contains everything I love about not only Greta Gerwig as an artist, but Noah Baumbach as well. He's become one of my favorite writers/directors for how well he depicts the lives and issues of everyday people, whilst he also provides strong contributions to more over-the-top projects, i.e. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). It's funny without going for any big gags, it's relatable, it's aesthetically stylish without insisting upon itself. Frances Ha is just a plain delightful movie.