New York seems to inspire filmmakers like almost no other city “ its iconic buildings provide an instantly recognisable backdrop to any number of movies. For residents, this is a double-edged sword. There’s the pleasure of seeing your neighbourhood on the big screen, but cinema has also taught us that when aliens attack, zombies start to walk the earth or a giant gorilla is discovered, we’ll be the first in trouble.
Fortunately, the combined imaginations of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are a little more benign than others’ “ their New York movie’s apparent major influence is Woody Allen’s Manhattan, which is echoed in the movies black and white photography, dialogue heavy scenarios and low-key wit. It also owes a debt to the New Wave cinema of the fifties and sixties.
Greta Gerwig, the co-writer (along with director Baumbach), plays the eponymous Frances, a dancer in her late twenties, rootless and drifting through life with no clear idea of what she wants or how to get it. She shares a Brooklyn apartment with her best friend Sophie, and the two of them claim to be two halves of the same person. So it’s a bit of a shock to Frances when Sophie announces that she is moving out to a houseshare with another woman whom Frances dislikes, in a part of town that Frances cannot afford.
This upheaval provides what narrative drive the movie possesses, as Frances bounces from apartment to apartment, trying to figure out where she’s going, and maybe just enjoy herself along the way. She is an interesting protagonist “ at times endearingly naÃ¯ve, at others maddening self-absorbed. She has a run that’s good, but not quite as good as Napoleon Dynamite’s. She tries to engage with playfights with a colleague, who is baffled by the whole thing. She gets drunk and shows no understanding of social conventions at dinner parties. She has a kind of platonic flirtation with Benjy, her sometime housemate. She has flaming arguments with Sophie.
In the end, Frances Ha, like its protagonist is at times lovable, at times frustrating and somewhat lacking in direction. There are some witty lines, and moments of sadness that are genuinely affecting. It’s also refreshing to see a movie with a female lead whose only goal isn’t to find a man. However, your fondness for the movie may depend heavily on your tolerance for listening to lengthy conversations between groups of self-involved hipsters.