Directed by Noah Baumbach (Greenberg, The Squid and the Whale) who co-wrote the screenplay with star Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is an aimless picture about a 27-year-old named Frances (Gerwig) who stumbles through life as she tries to rediscover herself and what she wants to do. Filmed in black and white and with no traditional narrative through line or focussed plot development to speak of, Frances Ha feels like a movie gunning for the niche market of art film enthusiasts. It comes armed with neon signs saying ‘Look at me! I’m different! Charming! Monochromatic!’ – alas, if only being different was enough.
I’ll be honest, Frances Ha isn’t a movie for me. I found it an insufferable bore and couldn’t wait for it to end barely 15 minutes into the short 86-minute runtime. Gerwig, the real-life partner of Baumbach, plays the title character as a wide-eyed ditz. The basic premise is that Frances works as a dancer and lives with best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), but is forced to re-evaluate herself when Sophie moves out. The story thereafter plays out like a slice of life piece, as Frances hops between apartments and jobs but struggles to fit into society because she doesn’t quite operate at the level of a mature adult.
The problem is that it’s basically a series of setpieces of Frances’ life. There’s no real drama, no tension and no characters worth caring about. Sure, Gerwig dominates all aspects of the production, but I couldn’t stand her Frances for a number of reasons. Namely, she just doesn’t shut up. There’s way too much talking – it’s a case of telling rather than showing – with quick and jarring scene changes followed by even more rapid-fire speech from the supercharged klutz. I came to appreciate any brief moment of respite, letting out a sigh of relief when the curtain finally came down.
Mostly however, I just didn’t care about Frances. The movie is practically begging its audience to buy into its quirky, hipster tone. Conversations are in the Seinfeld tradition so are largely about nothing. But where Seinfeld is one of the greatest comedies of all time, mining comedic gold out of small embarrassing moments, Frances Ha falls flat and is left with humourless, awkward moments that are uncomfortable to watch. Certainly, Gerwig is strong in the star role and a few jokes hit their mark, but it doesn’t change the fact that Frances is acutely irritating and likely to inspire little more than impatient watch checking and toe tapping in a large portion of modern audiences.
An insufferable and boring slice of life comedy made for the art film crowd.