Perhaps the smartest thing about FRANCES HA, which was directed by Noah Baumbach and co-written with Greta Gerwig, is the importance it attaches to the characters in their down time. The film is basically about the young creatives – conventionally known as “hipsters” – who live in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. The title character is an apprentice dancer; another is constantly doing sample scripts for film and television; a third is in publishing. But we never see them working, just talking about it, or not having any, or reposing in hallways, or lounging around their apartments on couches or window sills.
When you finally start seeing Frances herself working, it is when she starts to get her life together, first as an RA at a dorm at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie (the film has been billed as a drama of Williamsburg, but happens all over, including in Sacramento and Paris), then – finally – taking the initiative to make her own dances. FRANCES HA is essentially about that moment in life when one decides to take one’s own aspirations seriously enough to either succeed admirably or fail while doing so, when marking time no longer fools even you, and you take the bull by the horns and either make it happen or die trying. It is partly “the system” that imposes the necessity of this obligation upon us, but it is also in the nature of things that only so much can be given to us or happen on its own.
Greta Gerwig, one of the five or six twenty something women most worth watching in movies today (and she isn’t the fifth or the sixth), owned the part of Frances Ha (the origin of which moniker is very cleverly revealed in the film itself) before it was so much as a glint in the screenwriter’s eye. She is typical of the milieu in her matter-of-factness about such things as sex and money (it is refreshing how readily the hipster admits to being short on cash, or even desperate, unwilling at all costs to flirt with the falsity of keeping up appearances). The film is actually a very simple one, telling Frances’ story, more or less as it unfolds, from not moving in with her boyfriend out of loyalty to her roommate to finally achieving at least one thing that really matters to her.
The black-and-white imagery is lovely to watch, with its evocation of the Nouvelle Vague, a sensibility that is also reflected in the soundtrack. Williamsburg may not be the new Paris (it is unlikely that any place is), but it would like to be, so why not enjoy the conceit of it and make a little art along the way?
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