As much as I enjoyed the high-octane stupidity of Fast & Furious 6, I think my brain needed a break from the recent string of blockbusters I’ve been subjecting myself to. Or at least it needed a break from the trailers, because Jesus Christ, I already had a massive headache before Fast 6 even started. All thanks to sensory-bashing sound effects accompianied by the subtle imagery of Denzel Washington exploding a car full of money or cowboy Jeff Bridges tackling Ryan Reynolds out of a twenty-story building, which is no big deal because they’re cops and they’re dead or something. But I digress, since there is a time and place for movies like Fast 6, and thankfully there’s still a time and place for movies like Frances Ha, a film that pretty much exemplifies the words “small” and “indie”, but is a charmer nonetheless.
Frances is the titular character of the film, and she’s fairly typical of the sort of self-involved twentysomething artist-types that are just trying to get by doing the thing they love (Hmm, sounds like some people I know). Frances is struggling to make it as a dancer in New York, and the film deals a fair amount with that dilemma of putting your energy into something you’re passionate about, all while facing the harsh realities of growing older and more jaded. But most of all, it’s just a fun but also very real character-driven dramedy, as Frances seems to go from apartment to apartment, trying to make a connection with the quirky Brooklynites that seem to permeate her life. It’s a fairly loose story in terms of plotting, but this is a trait I’m usually willing to embrace in movies if I’m invested in the characters and their world (which I was). Plus it never really feels meandering thanks to the film’s tight running time of 86 minutes.
I’ve pretty much liked all of writer/director Noah Bambauch’s earlier work (give or take a Margot At The Wedding), despite the fact that they can sometimes be a bit divisive thanks to the prickliness of their characters. But because Frances is more of a starry-eyed dreamer than the bitter depressives that usually dominate Bambauch’s films, the style and tone here reflects that. Thanks to an eclectic musical score, and some striking black and white cinematography, the film has a sort of French New Wave meets Manhattan kind of vibe to it. And fortunately for me, Bambauch’s cynical touch keeps things from ever venturing into outright whimsy, since I’m finding I have a pretty low threshold for whimsy.
But really, the driving force here is the film’s co-writer and star, Greta Gerwig. I think at this point she’s one of our finest young actresses, as well as one of our most naturally gifted ones. She’s in pretty much every frame of the film, and despite the unpredictable and seemingly unambitious nature of the character, she always manages to make Frances charming and likable without even a hint of phoniness. I don’t know if Gerwig will ever quite make the transition to mainstream stardom, since showing up in lame romantic comedies has been the best she’s been able to do so far. But she’s already been doing good stuff on the indie circuit for years, and Frances Ha is just another indication that she’s completely capable of carving out a great body of work outside the constraints of Hollywood.