Berlin 2013: ‘Frances Ha’ review


Shot entirely in black and white, Frances Ha (2012) sees US indie director Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig team up once again after their successful partnership with Greenberg (2010). This time round, Gerwig is integral in the scriptwriting process, creating a delightfully twee, metropolitan fairytale about the difficulties of growing-up when you’re already fully-grown. Frances (Gerwig) is a 27-year-old aspiring dancer who lives with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner ), in a cliquey Brooklyn apartment. The pair have been inseparable since college, often described as being the same person – just with different hair.

However, the girls’ relationship has hit a crossroads, with Sophie moving out to continue her successful career as a publisher. Frances, on the other hand, remains an apprentice at the same dance company she’s interned with since graduation. Finding herself constantly moving from apartment to another due to her frail financial position, each step is one further away from the heart of the city, and ultimately a regression back to her youth. Struggling to become a fully functioning member of society, Frances soon finds her peculiar ways becoming less and less endearing with her rapidly maturing friends, ultimately finding herself back where she began.

The endearingly sycophantic character of Gerwig’s Frances, with her peculiar eccentricities and indefatigable confidence makes for a true, lovable protagonist. Her unwavering energy could so easily have become tiresome, yet somehow Gerwig’s ability to inject an infectious degree of charisma and a sense of carefree humility into this glaringly gregarious character shows just why she’s so highly regarded amongst the American indie film scene. Regardless of whether she’s fawning around on the stage of her dance school, tripping over her words or genuinely just making a fool of herself, it’s hard not to embrace Gerwig’s unpredictable penchant for physical comedy and her ingratiatingly bumbling demeanour.

A departure from the pompous and downright unlikeable protagonists of his previous films, Baumbach has managed to fashion an impeccable portrait of post-graduate malady. Tumbling gracefully between the low-key aesthetic of mumblecore and the jocularity and inescapable intelligence of Whit Stillman, Frances Ha also owes more than a slight debt to the liberating films of the French New Wave – a fact further emphasised by Frances’ spontaneous, yet disheartening weekend trip to Paris. Distilling the essence of life into the limited square footage of a monochrome Manhattan apartment, Baumbach’s use of nostalgic black and white and objective realism culminates in a wistful character piece that feels like a documentary about the pains of growing up in today’s material-driven society.

A film that both of its creators can be incredibly proud of, Baumbach’s Frances Ha has aligned two of America’s most promising independent talents and created perhaps one of the most endearing and affable indies to have emerged over recent years. A tender, yet hilarious coming-of-age drama, Frances Ha is a light-hearted love song for adults who’ve never truly developed past their adolescence.

The 2013 Berlin Film Festival runs from 7-17 February. For more of our Berlinale coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble