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Frances Ha | Review

Baumbach Stops Wallowing In Cynicism To Lens His Best Yet

Noah Baumbach has built an oeuvre on characters frozen in time, refusing to let go of the past while evading emotional maturity at every turn, and his latest, Frances Ha, follows the trend, but the difference here is that for the first time he brushes off his signature cynicism. Co-written and starred by Greta Gerwig, the film instead recalls classic NYC lovin’ Woody Allen wit and intellectualism (even shooting in B&W) while embracing fresh, modern issues, all along staying grounded with the adult children Baumbach is so comfortable exploring. By taking on a bright young writing partner and a slightly more hopeful outlook, Baumbach has put together the best film of his career.

Gerwig plays Frances, a 27 year-old dancing understudy on the verge of becoming a full time company member, but with little focus she can’t seem to cut a break, in work or otherwise. Her best friend and roommate, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), whom she considers her hetero life partner, suddenly ditches her and their apartment for an uptown upgrade, sending her life into a downward spiral earmarked by a series of home addresses that place her further and further from her professional aspirations. Jokingly dubbed ‘undateable’ by her subsequent male roomies, Frances essentially hands the reigns of free-will to fate, carelessly floating from one situation to the next as those around her begin to sparkle with success. Next thing she knows, her former best friend is living in Japan with her auspicious fiancé, while she is catering back at her alma mater, dorming amongst students once again. And though we knew all along that most of Frances’ problems were a product of her own refusal to grow up, it isn’t until her own epiphany that the air is cleared and she takes the reigns again.

Now, in mere print this seemingly schlocky unraveling appears well worn, but on screen it’s perfectly executed to create an exquisite balance of playful awkwardness that pairs Gerwig’s naturally funny deliveries with a quick editorial pacing that moves the story along in smart and hilarious ways. Instead of blundering about in unaware self pity as many of Baumbach’s characters have in the past, Frances is effortlessly upbeat, cheerily accepting the hands she is dealt, even to the point of her own detriment, but this is why the film works so well.

Turning all the faux intellectualism and self depreciation that tends to undercut many of Baumbach’s films on their head, Frances Ha is an endearing film that draws from the classics to infuse modern problems of social failings and self fulfillment with a sense of timelessness. Though there is plenty of date-stamping devices throughout, this one is made to last.

Reviewed on September 15 at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentation Programme. 86 Min.

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