Review: Frances Ha (Not a Cheap Thrill)

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Nothing I write could dampen the pleasures of Francis Ha. It’s charming and revelatory, energetic and wry, exuberant and endearing, but it’s also self-loving and bothersome. It gives you two choices: find it delightful or don’t: there is no unique, self-guided option. As frustrating as that conundrum may be, it’s still hard not to take option one.

Director Noah Baumbach clearly admires GF and co-scripter Greta Gerwig, and in the throes of admiration he’s translated her too-childish affectations into a cinematic valentine. Like the French New Wave, this valentine loves its medium; unlike the French New Wave, it loves its subject more.

One could say it’s not so narcissistic because we watch Frances suffer humiliations: her best friend (Mickey Sumner) abandons her, she’s semi-destitute, she loses her place as an apprentice in a dance company and has to spend the summer working at her college (Vassar). She’s a 27 year old who’s tone-deaf to adulthood and she’s played by a woman who famously ran through a New York art gallery yelling: “WE’RE IN OUR 20s!” Maybe Gerwig’s a tall girl but here she’s as much an object as Megan Fox, she just plays it like a toy dog—but a really intriguing one, like a chiweenie.

She’s is a neat cinematic presence and maybe the only existing Manic Pixie Dreamgirl we ever see close up (The Dish and the Spoon), but instead of being one of those character actors that transforms a movie into an ersatz-anthropological space (think Sally Struthers in The Getaway or Susan Tyrell in anything) she turns NY into a backdrop for The Greta Show. Her New York resembles Woody Allen's but unlike Allen's characters, Frances only loves and makes a nuisance of herself—for as self-centered as Frances Ha is, Frances Ha is rather unselfish.

And yet for all the ways this feels like an uncomfortable intrusion into a tricky relationship (that between the actor and director, older divorcee and younger woman, artist and muse), you leave the movie feeling the thrill of limitless potential: like good choreography, Frances Ha reminds you the ways of movement in space and time can feel infinite.

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About Sara Vizcarrondo

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Sara Vizcarrondo is a freelance film critic out of San Francisco. She runs Opening Movies at Rottentomatoes, teaches film/media studies at DeAnza college and writes on film for Popdose and The SF Bay Guardian.

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