“Frances Ha” may be a comedy, but it’s a movie that gives me nightmares. Along with the equally uproarious “Girls,” writer/star Greta Gerwig gives me little reason to be optimistic for the future. Heck, after watching this movie, I wondered why I’d ever want to graduate college. (Don’t worry, mom and dad, I’ll still be done in four years!)
This recent explosion in cultural narratives coming from frustrated twentysomethings has given me a new greatest fear that far exceeds needles and heights. It’s the idea that my destiny is to end up overeducated and underemployed. Especially now that everyone has pegged down us millenials as “entitled” and “narcissistic,” it’s like the walls are closing in on me/us.
Gerwig’s Frances, a 27-year-old still getting adjusted to the pressures and demands of adulthood, is a particularly aimless meanderer. She knows that she needs to make major changes in order to get her life together, but she lacks a lot of the drive or capacity to follow through on any of them. As a result, she makes the best of the mess and lives to make the best of her situation with little regard for its future implications.
On her best days, Frances is a joyful opportunist. Meanwhile, on her worst days, she’s a sloth that borders on being completely unsympathetic. Perhaps why I had trouble embracing Frances is that she does hit rather close to home. Unlike the characters on “Girls,” who often find themselves thwarted by unfortunate circumstances or society as a whole, “Frances Ha” is a grimly humorous reminder that many of our issues are thanks to our own doing.
Though Frances’ prickly charm reflects very authentic human nature, the whole film lacks the kind of deep emotional connection co-writer and director Noah Baumbach showed he’s capable of forging in “The Squid and the Whale” (though it’s certainly a step in the right direction from “Greenberg“). That film presented similarly thorny characters sorting through their emotional baggage, yet it somehow inspired identification rather than inhibited it. I’ve always seen most of myself in highly flawed protagonists, but Baumbach and Gerwig’s Frances is so frustratingly heedless that it becomes hard to root for her at all.
Baumbach’s much better with the camera in “Frances Ha” than he is with the pen, providing the Truffaut-Dunham fusion that no one asked for but we now realize we were secretly clamoring for all along. It pulls delightfully from the color palette and the music selection of French New Wave, providing such particularly blissful scenes as Frances frantically scurrying to find an ATM to a tune from “The 400 Blows.” Though perhaps there’s a requisite working knowledge of film history to fully appreciate the aesthetic, it’s got a distinct look and feel that should enchant in ways Frances’ personality cannot. B /