Noah Baumbach’s work has possessed an effortless knack to probe the distress of maturing youth. From The Squid and the Whale to Greenberg, Baumbach’s filmography contains an emotional resonance that captures the feel of aging; all the fears, anxieties and happiness of getting old can be bottled from the characters he writes. The effortlessness is something of a ruse though, as accounted by Greta Gerwig’s New York Times article. But beyond the obstacles that actors contend with to realize this material, it’s Baumbach and Gerwig’s writing that marks a clear maturation in direction and self-reflection.
Aptly described by Baumbach as a “road movie with apartments”, Frances Ha dissects the tense state of watching all those around you transition into adulthood while being left behind. A carefree and light spirit defines much of the opening for Frances Ha, where Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Summer) roam New York City with uncontained glee. But as Sophie is beginning to take those critical steps into adulthood, Frances finds her living situation compromised. It’s the catalyst that rollicks her laid-back lifestyle – dreams of grandeur where Frances and Sophie will find success together no longer seem as probable. From here, the narrative takes Frances from residence to residence with wisely deployed title cards guiding the audience along the way. The design and structuring is so cleanly defined and damn smart that it never feels forced or unnatural – Frances Ha moves in a progressively compelling and organic manner.
This organic quality is aided by Sam Levy’s gorgeous black and white cinematography. The immediacy that the visuals evoke gives the material an impressively direct nostalgic quality. This blends perfectly with Baumbach’s directorial sensibilities, which seem clearer and more refined as well, at least in comparison to his something like The Squid and the Whale. He moves in confident strides and exacting precision that only enhances Frances Ha’s kinetic qualities; directorially, it’s his most accomplished work.
Arrested adolescent development has been the topic of virtually every other American independent film over the past decade. But Frances Ha towers over them for the sheer energy it brings to the viewer. From Greta Gerwig’s dance through the city streets of New York to the rambunctiousness of Baumbach crisscrossing the globe from New York City to Sacramento to Paris, the primal sense of intimacy and humanity that Baumbach and Gerwig bring are infectiously delightful. While a tinge (or at times, heavy dosage) of cynicism have purveyed all of Baumbach’s work, this is the first time where he seems to shed that discomfort – in the end, the perpetual damsel in distress will find her way.