Film of the week: Frances Ha (Baumbach, 2012)
Directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is a joyously exuberant film about the struggles of a 27 year old dance apprentice, portrayed by Greta Gerwig, who charismatically brings Frances to life. Often described as the quintessential mumblecore film, Frances Ha guides us from scene to scene through its upbeat and sporadic narrative.
Originating from the early 2000s, mumblecore is an independent film movement that more often than not focuses on characters in their 20s and 30s struggling through life in dead-end jobs and relationships, etc. Although Frances Ha employs the usual devices of mumblecore, for example: dialogue-driven plot, naturalistic acting, location shooting, low budget, and so forth, it also stars Greta Gerwig who began her career in mumblecore films, such as, Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends. What makes Frances Ha so unique however, is the collaboration between Baumbach and Gerwig, who have collaborated on several feature films. In addition to this, the film is wonderfully shot in black and white by Sam Levy, whose cinematography echoes styles of French New Wave cinema.
Frances shares an apartment in Brooklyn with her best friend, Sophie. The two are almost inseparable until Sophie ultimately decides to find an apartment with another friend, and then later with her boyfriend. Loneliness is a dominant theme throughout the film and Sophie's decision obviously impacts Frances, but she doesn’t let it get in the way of their close friendship. Despite the limitations of her dreams, Frances never loses sight of her goals and is happy to take up odd jobs, including summer work at Vassar College, her alma mater, where another intern expresses confusion about Frances’ age and her decision to take on the job. But Frances isn’t bothered by this and her positive outlook is exactly what carries the film.
One of the most uplifting sequences shows Frances dancing through the streets of New York City to Bowie’s Modern Love. Frances Ha contains spontaneous and upbeat moments such as this, including Frances visiting her parents in Sacramento, as well as a last minute decision to take a short trip to Paris. Some people would see this as another of Frances’ ‘failures’ but ultimately it is a reflection of who Frances is. Frances has a spontaneous personality and if she has an idea then she sees it through. The film also boasts an outstanding ensemble cast, which includes, Mickey Sumner, Michael Zegen, Charlotte d’Amboise, and Adam Driver, who often appears in Baumbach’s films.
Despite her struggles and ups and downs, Frances fills us with hope and reinforces our own enthusiasm and ambition through our own personal struggles. Beautifully shot by Sam Levy, Frances Ha may be stylistically reminiscent of French New Wave cinema and American films such as, Manhattan and Girlfriends, but Sam Levy remains an influential cinematographer in his own right and has shot a cinematic masterpiece of independent American cinema. It has recently been announced that another Baumbach and Gerwig project is in the works and is precisely what we need after a forgettable year.