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Frances Ha PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
19 08 2013

ImageDirected by Noah Baumbach

My relationship with this film went through several stages. First a gut reaction against that poster, which looks too artily self-conscious to bear; then a similar negative irritation towards the trailer, which seemed like same old same old kooky New York boho set, prancing around in the streets and wise-cracking in moody black and white. Then watching it was a journey from scepticism to acceptance to an increasing involvement and pleasure.

Frances (the ‘Ha' is revealed at the end to be her half-formed identity), played marvellously by Greta Gerwig, is a twenty-seven-year-old who hasn't totally grown up. She ‘works' in modern dance, more in expectation of roles than actuality, and frankly doesn't look that good at it. She has a boyfriend whom she doesn't really want to commit to, instead living with the person she is utterly close to, her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner - yes, Sting and Trudie's girl), with whom she snuggles totally platonically in bed and plans a silly, idyllic, impossible future for the two of them. Sadly for her it won't last.  Sophie does have a fairly resolved life both professionally (she's a fairly high-powered publisher's editor) and emotionally (she has a sensible boyfriend - his name - Patch - says it all), and is taking the pretty inevitable route to becoming a grown up.

As we meander along with Frances in her hand to mouth existence - a tax refund means a typically generous offer of a meal to a friend, but she struggles to pay the rent and has to take on a low paid temporary job back at her old college to get through the summer - she gets under our skin with her ‘funny man-walk' and tendency to say straight what comes into her head. Greta Gerwig, an accomplished physical actor (she does a wonderful dash to the bank machine) as well as having a face tremendously good at expressing the tiniest nuances of emotion, is hard to resist even when she's being irritating and childish in the worst way, like foolish dancing in the street or fun fighting.

Two fabulous set-pieces were the clincher - a dinner party of up-market successful young adults who don't know what to make of her searingly truthful opening-up of her feelings in the midst of their unremarkable self-congratulatory chat; and a  trip she takes on a whim to Paris. For once ‘an American in Paris' doesn't find their life enhanced and opened up by the fulfilling joie de vivre that is traditional in almost every film where this happens, so often it's almost a cliché. Frances stomps alone around an unresponsive city, desperately trying to get in touch with a friend there who isn't picking up, and the black and white that has been so stylish and somehow warm in New York makes the city just as dull and empty as her feelings. It's a horribly accurate taste of that particular hollow glumness which can come over you alone abroad, and with it my conversion to Frances was complete. It's so refreshing to see a film that deals with platonic friendship in all its fragility, an emotion equal any day to the romantic kind.

For me the film is rather let down by its unlikely ‘success against the odds' ending, which comes as a bit of a surprise. Is Frances growing up? Do we want her to? The non-grown up inside us secretly mutters No.

I actually saw the film twice, just to confirm my suspicions that it might be rather good. Which it is. I foresee that Frances' generation of filmgoers revisiting this in years to come will remember their own silly selves watching and empathising with it now, just as my own does with Annie Hall, a film of which this bears many echoes.  

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 8 August 2013


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