If you haven't heard of Greta Gerwig, I think you'll be hearing a lot more about her very soon. She's the star and co-writer of Noah Baumbach's latest film Frances Ha, and she gives a performance so honest, vulnerable, quirky, and relatable that directors will be scrambling to get Gerwig in their films with hopes that she'll bring the blast of fresh air that she breathes into her role as Frances, a struggling 27-year-old dancer in New York whose life is upended when adulthood begins to pull apart her friendship with her besty Sophie (Mickey Sumner). It's the kind of performance that reminds you what's great about indie films, and it's why Frances Ha may be my favorite movie I've seen so far this year. Watch my review of Frances Ha below (transcript following).
We watch a lot of movies, and some of them are quite good. But every once in a while, an indie movie comes along that's so refreshingly genuine and low-fi that it reminds you that even our favorite movies and TV shows bear almost no resemblance to real life in how they look or how people talk and act. I had a moment like that for the first time in a while with Noah Baumbach's latest film, Frances Ha, a funny, wonderful movie about a 27-year-old woman dealing with adulthood and the growing distance between herself and her best friend. It's a movie that feels like what would happen if Manhattan-era Woody Allen made his own version of Bridesmaids on a shoestring budget, and I mean that in the very best way.
Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay, plays Frances, a struggling apprentice dancer living in Brooklyn with her best friend Sophie (played by Mickey Sumner) who has a good job in publishing. While there's no romance between them, Frances and Sophie, by their own description, are a lot like a happily married couple in a sexless relationship, doing everything together, sharing their own language and inside jokes, and reminiscing about their past together. But their life as besties is thrown into disarray when Sophie tells Frances that she wants to move to an apartment in a neighborhood Frances can't afford, causing some hurt feelings and distance between them, which gets even worse when Sophie decides to move to Japan with her boyfriend who Frances isn't crazy about.
Yes, this sounds a lot like the premise of Bridesmaids, which was also about a woman who's forced to reevaluate her life when her best friend decides to join the ranks of married grown ups. But instead of veering into the sillier, more slapstick world of wacky characters and group diarrhea, Frances Ha goes more realistic and low key as Frances must confront the many unromantic and familiar aspects of being young in America -- finding cheap or free places to stay, struggling to make money but still being irresponsible with it, wondering if you're too quirky to date and make new friends, technically being an adult while not feeling like one, and questioning if it may be time to give up long-held dreams for something more practical.
While these are issues most young people face, Frances Ha feels so true-to-life that it feels totally familiar but never cliché. Much of the credit for that goes to Gerwig, who gives a wonderfully fresh and natural performance, aided by the fact that she probably wrote a lot of her own dialogue, and the fact that her 5'9" frame and overall awkwardness makes her seem both physically and mentally like a teenager struggling with the responsibilities that come with an adult body.
Baumbach's directing style is the other major contributor to what makes Frances Ha feel so genuine, in what I hope serves as an inspiration to both aspiring and established directors. Filmed in digital black and white with apparently minimal lighting, Frances Ha is the opposite of flashy, with little to distract you from what the movie actually is, which is Frances Having conversations and trying to figure out where her life is going in the streets, bars, and tiny apartments of New York. Frances Ha doesn't take place in a heightened alternate reality full of dramatic moments and glamorous locations, but instead gives you the feeling of real life condensed, with the film structured around the various places Frances ends up living, which is how we often divide the phases of our lives.
But Frances Ha also confirms that you don't need a big crew, lots of money, and a tight or twisty plot to make a great movie. You don't even need color! Because a strong, realistic performance coupled with some truth and honesty will beat production value every time. And with instantly relatable issues like these, Frances Ha is a wonderfully entertaining time at the movies, and it wouldn't surprise me if Frances Ha becomes a touchstone and cult classic for artistic twenty-somethings for years to come.