I’m not going to pretend that I’m some OG Noah Baumbach fan. The first time someone told me about Kicking and Screaming, I assumed she was talking about the youth soccer movie starring Will Farrell. I believe I even spent the next day thinking that said youth soccer film was some secret gem that I needed to see ASAP. I am glad the internet was able to clear that up for me. So no, I don’t have anything particularly deep to say about how Baumbach’s latest film, Frances Ha, represents an organic outgrowth of his previous work. I’ve liked the three of his films that I’ve seen, but none as much as Frances Ha.
It’s hard for me to describe why this movie is so good. It’s not, as many first-year composition students would say, “really relatable” (cue sound of me crying). I’ve never lived in Brooklyn or Manhattan, and have never been close enough with folks who do to go out and have a typical alt experience. I went to New York once for a wedding during a hurricane, and that’s it. And while I know what it’s like to be broke as hell at 27 while chasing some ultimately pointless dream (Frances wants to be a touring dancer, perhaps the only thing more unlikely than becoming an English professor), I didn’t see much of myself in Frances.
And maybe that’s just it. Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (his co-writer, lover, and the star of the film) have produced a character study of someone who reminds me of bits and pieces of folks I’ve met in my life without her being reduced to a “type.” Frances feels very much like her own complete person, which is rare in both the film and real worlds. I certainly am not the first person to say this, but Gerwig’s Frances works for the same reasons Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall and Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer do: she reads as authentic, so you find yourself interested in what happens to her, even if it isn’t much. I suppose that’s another way of saying that I’d watch Frances do just about anything, and since the film gives us a chance to do just that, I loved it.
There are many other reasons to see the film beyond the central character. It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s shot well. There are a couple great music cues (but not too many). The film’s secondary characters all serve purposes realized by the actors’ performances. And it’s weirdly about what the financial crisis has done to people of my generation (cogent film analysis from the National Review?!?!).
But finally it all comes back to Frances, who Greta Gerwig just nails. I suppose the best praise I can give this movie is that I plan on buying a physical copy of it when it becomes available because I want re-watch it a lot. I can’t remember the last movie I said that about.