The significance of the title of Frances Ha is arguably a spoiler because of when it’s revealed. It’s a bit like how Greenberg, director Noah Baumbach’s last movie and similarly a showcase for Greta Gerwig’s gangly charm, ended with the simple insight of the line, “This is you”. What a way to close out a movie.
Frances Ha might seem at first like the hip stylings of twentysomethings in New York City. But it would be a mistake to lump this movie in with the precociousness of Lena Dunham’s Girls. Because for all the emotional honesty and stylized naturalism in Girls, it’s still a neatly packaged weekly show arranged into seasonal arcs, neatly divvied up among its cannily arranged cast. Frances Ha is also emotionally honest and stylishly naturalistic, but it’s a far more focused story about the pain of transitioning into adulthood at a different rate from your friends. It’s about not quite being able to move into your place in the world. It has bite. It’s almost never played for laughs, although it’s certainly funny. Sometimes cruelly so.
Baumbach’s fondness for New York is in full force, shot in lovely black-and-white. Also, it’s masterfully edited as a series of flashes about the process of day to day life over the weeks and months. It even jumps nonchalantly to a whole other country. If there’s one problem — and this is a great problem for a movie to have — it’s that Gerwig is so striking in black and white. She has the elegance of Ingrid Bergman, but with an amazing unselfconscious expressiveness. It can be hard to accept her as a down-on-her-luck twentysomething. Isn’t the world kinder to people this luminous?