New York twentysomething Frances (Gerwig) is content pottering through life. But when her boyfriend dumps her, and best friend Sophie (Sumner) asks her to move out, she has to take charge of her future and follow her dreams.
If Jean-Luc Godard remade HBO’s Girls, the result might look, and feel, a lot like the latest film from writer-director Noah Baumbach. The director’s last movie, the critically lauded but commercially lacklustre Greenberg, was co-written by then-girlfriend Jennifer Jason Leigh, and boasted a remarkable turn by fellow indie darling Greta Gerwig. Now, Gerwig takes centre stage as co-writer and star, as well as being leading lady in her director’s life. Time will tell whether Baumbach and Gerwig are soulmates, but on the evidence of this film, they are kindred spirits.
There’s a scene early on in the film (and the trailer) in which Frances falls flat on her face while running pell-mell down the street (to the strains of David Bowie’s Modern Love), then picks herself up and keeps on running, hardly breaking stride. It’s a synecdochic moment, a brief scene which sums up Frances’ glass-half-full approach to life, despite the fact that she hasn’t much reason to be optimistic. While she takes being dumped in her stride, Frances is far more wounded by the rejection of her best friend and flatmate Sophie (played by Sting’s daughter, Mickey Sumner), with whom she has the female equivalent of a ‘bromance’ (a ‘womance’?).
With her comfortable yet directionless life suddenly upended, Frances belatedly begins a journey into an uncertain future, greeting each new disappointment and disastrous life choice with as much courage as she can muster, even if, like Fiona Apple’s tulip in a cup, she “stands no chance of growing up”. Rooting for her to succeed at something — anything — in this beautifully observed, bittersweet coming-of-age comedy is likely to be one of the highlights of the summer, without a costumed hero or a giant robot in sight.
Although the monochrome photography will invite comparisons with Manhattan, Frances Ha is closer in spirit to Godard than Woody Allen. Anchored by a charming performance from Greta Gerwig, it’s as light and breezy as a walk in Central Park, and just as refreshing.
Reviewed by David Hughes