Millions will undoubtedly be flocking to “The Hangover Part III” and “Fast & Furious 6” this weekend, but those seeking a refreshingly original alternative should look no further than the jubilant “Frances Ha.” Directed by Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Greenberg”), “Frances Ha” transcends nearly every romantic comedy convention. In fact, it’s not a romantic comedy at all, but rather a young woman’s coming-of-age tale where the term “adult” is thrown around by those who have yet to discover its meaning.
Frances (played by the effortlessly likable Greta Gerwig) is a 27-year-old dance apprentice living in New York, struggling to pay the bills and blissfully spending her days with her roommate and best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). When Sophie decides to move out and gets more serious with her boyfriend, Frances suffers a bit of an identity crisis: hopping among various roommates, failing to get ahead in her dance company and charging an ultimately fruitless trip to Paris on a newly-acquired credit card.
On paper, it really shouldn’t work as well as it does and the film could be a little too offbeat for general audiences. Some may wince at character names like Patch, Lev and Benji, or find the inseparable relationship between Frances and Sophie to be nauseating. A combination of winning performances from all involved, though, matched with a fresh script from co-writers Baumbach and Gerwig, “Frances Ha” manages to be quirky and kinetic without ever grating on one’s nerves; offering a contemporary perspective on growing up and female friendship that has been seldom touched upon in recent memory.
Although she’s appeared in a couple dozen films to date, many critics have dubbed Frances as Gerwig’s breakout performance. With infectious charisma and a knack for physical comedy, Gerwig embodies a lovable underdog who you continually ache to succeed. Awkwardly and impeccably delivering lines like “I just got a tax rebate, wanna go to dinner?” Gerwig also captures Frances’s fragility as her life begins to fall apart (Defending her wilting friendship with Sophie to a particularly snooty acquaintance, Frances snaps, “She’s my best friend. She came to my house three times for Christmas.”). There’s a certain pettiness to her high-school mindset, but unlike Charlize Theron’s character in “Young Adult” or even any character on HBO’s “Girls,” Frances has no ulterior motives; she just wants things to stay as they were.
The film brilliantly addresses a subject oft-ignored in depicting friendships among young people, which is that of putting up a façade so to mask the less glamorous realities of one’s life. As the two of them drift apart, Frances learns of Sophie’s life through friends at dinner parties, and when given the chance to confess everything and finally reconnect, Frances feels so disconnected from Sophie that she continues to sugarcoat everything; heartbreakingly saying “I love you” over the phone and hanging up before Sophie can respond, just to make sure that she does not feel obligated to say it back. It’s poignant moments such as these that give the film its heart and bring home the idea that adopting the persona of an adult does not always mean you’re actually ready to grow up.
Shot in ravishing black and white by cinematographer Sam Levy, “Frances Ha” pulsates with the energy of New York, capturing the dreamlike wonder of the city evoked in films such as Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” Set to an intoxicating soundtrack featuring the likes of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” and Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner,” the film moves briskly along while still giving room for the characters to breathe and adequately express themselves; a window into a bohemian world that you’ll be begging to spend a few more minutes in by the time the credits begin to roll.
The wonderful thing about “Frances Ha” is that it leaves our lovable protagonist in a good place without an actual resolution (much like lauded sitcoms “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “30 Rock” left their characters when the shows went off the air). There is no assumption that Frances’s life is perfect or that she’s now some rousing success, but we’re left knowing that she’s making progress and is going to be just fine. That’s all the satisfaction we need from the sunny “Frances Ha,” which cements its status as one of the most gratifying comedies of the year so far.
“Frances Ha” opened Friday, May 24, at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale. To learn more about the film, visit http://www.franceshamovie.com/.