Frances Ha

Quirky, in the best possible way, Frances Ha ( * * * ½ out of four) is a witty and emotionally resonant portrait of growing up while retaining the exuberance of youth. We can't help but root for Frances, though the Ha (short for Halliday) often seems as if it could stand for "hapless."

Frances is a 27-year-old Vassar graduate, and her adult life has yet to begin. When the movie opens, Frances is living contentedly with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), her best friend since college. So far, their bond has outlasted any romantic relationships either has had with men. "We're the same person," Frances insists. But Sophie has a good job and decides to move forward with her life, while Frances remains in stasis. When Sophie announces she's moving out, Frances opts for denial. Oblivious to Sophie's quietly mounting discontent, Frances clings to her version of their stalwart friendship.

She's in a similarly precarious state career-wise. An apprentice modern dancer who can't really dance, she doggedly refuses to give up her dream. "I'm not a real person yet," she confesses when asked for her non-existent credit card.

This is an unusual love story, between two friends, as seen through Frances' eyes. She adores Sophie and Sophie loves her, too, but needs to put distance between them as she pursues a relationship with a new boyfriend.

Co-writer Gerwig and director/writer Noah Baumbach make this emotionally layered tale of arrested development fresh, playful and a touch wistful. Frances is an authentic character in a recognizable time and place — contemporary New York. It's Baumbach's best film since 2006's The Squid and The Whale; stylistically he's influenced by early Woody Allen and Francois Truffaut. Evocatively shot in black and white, it's like Manhattan for millennials.

Gerwig is a major talent. Never straining for a joke, she's effortlessly funny. Gerwig's delivery is so natural and offbeat that it often seems improvised rather than scripted. Gerwig makes Frances a thoroughly distinctive character, composed of telling details. Scattered and sometimes self-defeating, she blurts out thoughts at inappropriate times, though comically.

But she's also irresistible in her capacity for joy. When asked, she jumps up and dances, rather clunkily, but with evident pleasure. She adores her best friend and overlooks her self-absorption to help her in a moment of need. Most of all, she's persistent. She stumbles, rather frequently and takes little notice, soldiering on. Frances Ha is like a hipster Phoenix, rising consistently — in a thrift store wardrobe — from the ashes.


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Frances Ha

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