FRANCES HA is a perfectly simple, straightforward little film, but there's an awful lot to say about it. Whichever way you turn the movie, it catches some light: This way, the plight of millennials; that way, the stylistic nods to French New Wave. There's a whole trend piece to be written about the young female writers (Greta Gerwig co-wrote the script) who are changing the way women are depicted in popular entertainment; and then there's parsing how this generous, optimistic film fits into the context of writer/director Noah Baumbach's previous work (his films aren't known for their generosity of spirit, as evidenced by Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg), and of Gerwig's career, as she's emerged from the trenches of mumblecore to become a versatile, incredibly likeable actress.
So here's what I saw when I looked at Frances Ha: What a tremendous relief it is to find a movie that acknowledges that women are interesting—that a woman can be the protagonist in a story that doesn't end in romance or a makeover, and that all the vitality and confusion and excitement of being young can be refracted just as well through a woman as a man. Men get most of the good stories—but not this one.
Frances (Gerwig) is 27 years old, an aspiring dancer, and slightly delusional about her career prospects in her chosen field. As Frances Ha opens, she lives happily in a Brooklyn apartment with her best friend Sophie (the brilliantly dry Mickey Sumner), whose job in publishing provides a level of financial security that Frances' apprenticeship (surprisingly!) does not. The two women have been best friends since college—they're "the same person," as Frances occasionally explains, overenthusiastically, to disinterested strangers—but their paths are about to diverge sharply, as Sophie first moves out into a nicer apartment, and then becomes engaged to an investment banker.
As Sophie transitions, apparently seamlessly, into adulthood, Frances basically falls apart. She bounces from apartment to apartment; heads home for Christmas to wallow in the temporary comfort of her parents' house; and falls into jobs she considers beneath her—because she is broke and her future is uncertain and the one relationship that sustained her suddenly isn't where it used to be. And she lies, a lot, to her friends and family, because even though she knows she doesn't have her shit together, she can't bear to see that knowledge reflected back at her by the people who know her best.
Frances Ha is about a decent young woman trying to find her way in the world. Mistakes are made and bottles of vodka are stolen from expensive restaurants, but Gerwig's Frances is goofy and charming and hilarious, even when she is fucking everything up.
The dialogue is realistic and often funny, the relationships are deep and complex, the sense of youthfulness and exuberance is infectious, and anyone who isn't already under Gerwig's spell will be by the end of this film—an ending which, incidentally, is about as perfect and triumphant as it gets.