But then I got to thinking: Frances Ha isn’t fashionably recycling Girls (or anything else, for that matter) – it’s simply complimenting it. Dunham has cited Baumbach as a major influence over her style, and Frances Ha is clear evidence as to why. Baumbach isn’t a recycler, he’s a pioneer.
After meeting a rich, preppy boy (perfectly named “Patch”) Sophie moves out, thereby taking away Frances’ crutch. Unable to afford her apartment solo, Frances moves in with some friends, then moves again when the rent is too high, then moves again, and so on. Frances drinks too much, earns too little and has a whiny excuse for everything. Note: If you aren’t interested in hearing a 27-year-old girl complain about everything in her life for 85 minutes, then do stay away.
Me? I dig Baumbach’s self-deprecating tone; he has a verbal style all his own, and American independent film is better for it. He also knows how to craft material perfectly suited for his actors. All of Baumbach’s films feature characters in emotional disarray, and Gerwig’s turn as Frances deserves to be ranked with the best. Gerwig, who has been dating the much older Baumbach for nearly two years, is an actress of specific range, and Baumbach knows how to push all of her buttons seamlessly.
In addition to Gerwig, Sumner’s work as Sophie is a real standout. Sophie’s the kind of deadpan, monotone hip chick who, unless backed into a corner, shows little emotion. There are a handful of scenes in which Gerwig pushes Sumner into such a corner, and these scenes prove to be the most emotionally raw of the film. Upon researching Sumner (an actress I previously knew nothing about) I’ve learned that she is the daughter of singer Sting, and, more importantly, looks absolutely nothing like Sophie. An interesting transformation, one I hope to see more of in her future roles.
As a film, Frances Ha ranks in the middle of Baumbach’s brief filmography. It has the wit of The Squid and the Whale, the melancholy of Margot at the Wedding and the notion of failed youth so evident in Kicking and Screaming. For fans of Baumbach’s deliberate style, Frances Ha is a welcome delight (especially if you were as turned off by his last film, Greenberg, as much as I was).
There’s a scene midway through Frances Ha that encapsulates why I value Noah Bambauch so much. In the scene, Frances and her new roommate debate what to do with their day. He proposes going to a movie, but Frances says she shouldn’t, noting how expensive movies are now.
“Yeah, but it’s the movies,” the roommate replies.