Let's get something straight about Frances Ha--and there is very little that is straightforward with this zippy misfit--Frances' last name is not really Ha. The Ha is explained in the final seconds of this hilarious-to-a-fault charmer. The reveal is well worth the wait. Between the opening titles and finale are 85 minutes of cinema gin fizz that tickles the brain and a bucket-load of ha-ha-ha's. Clever but awkward, Frances embodies that horrible phase in one's late 20s when you're asked to surrender life's romantic notions.
Frances is asked a conventional question by some dinner party guests:
"What do you do?"
"It's kind of hard to explain," Frances answers.
"Because what you do is complicated?"
"Because I don't really do it," she says.
Frances tells anyone who will listen that she's an "aspiring" dancer. But she has clearly held on to the moniker of "aspiring" so long that, by now, it's clear that she's not very good. Just look at her: She doesn't walk or run, she lumbers and bounds. And when she face-plants into a parked car, she spins to her feet and rolls on her way, undaunted. Maybe that's some form of primal dance, at least in Frances' world.
That world, by the way, is gorgeous: Filmed in pristine black and white, Frances' Manhattan is crisp and starched, and the film's unscheduled 24-hour stop in Paris is luminous.
But the real spectacle is Frances. Co-written and portrayed by Greta Gerwig, this untied shoelace of a girl is a modern classic. Gerwig's Frances takes a place along other Manhattan film icons like Barbra Streisand's Fanny Brice and Diane Keaton's Annie Hall.
Co-author, director and Gerwig's life partner Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Fantastic Mr. Fox) crafts Frances with perfect vulnerability. She flirts with adulthood as if it's some kind of awkward prom date.
"I'm so embarrassed," she says. "I'm not a real person yet."
Frances Ha shouldn't be marginalized as another in a steady string of low-budget art house mumblecore. It's a full-fledged star turn that will, I'm certain, be remembered come award time. The Motion Picture Academy will be hard-pressed to find five ladies that are more deserving than Gerwig of a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Baumbach uses generous doses of early '60s French New Wave films to inspire Frances Ha's style and feel. Even Georges Delerue's wonderful music, used in Francois Truffaut's 1962 masterpiece Jules and Jim, is a perfect fit for a 21st century soundtrack to Frances and her adventures.
I'm not sure where, or even if, Frances fits into the real world, but she fits in just fine in this splendid film.
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