“Frances Ha” is a Joy to Behold


Another busy Saturday, so I wanted to quickly repost the short piece I wrote for buffalospree.com on “Frances Ha,” part of my occasional “TIFF Revisited” series for the website. I love, love, love this movie. It will surely finish the year among my favorites.

Take it away, me:

There’s a sequence about thirty minutes into Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha that captures a feeling of real joy. Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, runs down the street, twirling, leaping, and smiling, in a scene set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” Now, that might sound lame. But in the context of the film, it is positively joyful. (Baumbach has admitted that he lifted it, so to speak, from a film by Holy Motors director Leos Carax—one that I’m now aching to see. As Film Comment noted, “When Frances leaps through the streets of New York to Bowie’s ‘Modern Love,’ you almost forget about Denis Lavant’s iconic Paris sprint to the same song in Carax’s Mauvais Sang.” Here is the clip.)

The sequence seems, well, perfect, and in some ways, so is Frances Ha. It’s a simple, funny, moving story that captures the experience of drifting through your twenties, growing apart from friends, and discovering who you are as well as any film I’ve ever seen. Suffice to say, it’s probably my favorite film so far this year. It opens today in Buffalo.

Some may find it slight, but I’m not so sure. Its issues are personal and emotional, but they feel right, and true. Greta Gerwig proves that she is one of the (if not the) most interesting actresses of her generation, and Baumbach has done something that even Wes Anderson had difficulty doing: He has created characters the audience truly cares about and believes in. It does not feel forced, like Margaret at the Wedding, nor off-putting like Greenberg. (I liked the Ben Stiller vehicle, but come on—it was pretty off-putting.) Frances even surpasses The Squid and the Whale in terms of emotional weight and believability.

The story? Frances, a wannabe dancer, and her best friend drift apart, leading her to new places and people. That’s about it. But that’s enough.

I missed Frances at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s no exaggeration to say I have been kicking myself ever since. Now, I’m glad its pleasures were waiting for me. It’s a film that requires a certain kind of viewing mood, but if you’re willing to embrace its eccentricities, you will not be sorry.

A perfect film? It sure feels that way.

Photo courtesy of IFC Films


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