Review: 'Frances Ha' is a rom-com — with BFFs

Greta Gerwig, left, and Mickey Sumner star in this hipster chronicle that Gerwig co-wrote.
Greta Gerwig, left, and Mickey Sumner star in this hipster chronicle that Gerwig co-wrote.
Published May 28, 2013

Frances Ha (R) (86 min.) — "I like things that look like mistakes," says the hipster hero of Noah Baumbach's movie, rationalizing another example of how together she isn't. Frances Halladay, played with chronic whimsy by Greta Gerwig, sees herself in a much better place in the world than she is. Frances is a proud underachiever whose delusions of a grander life would be pathetic if she weren't so adorably modish.

The same can be said of Frances Ha, filmed in nouvelle vague black and white, and written by Gerwig and Baumbach like a special episode of Girls. The movie may irritate viewers preferring characters with more drive to make something of themselves when the potential is there. Or it may inspire those members of Generation Why Bother set on becoming what they have no talent or motivation to seriously work toward: "Hey, that's me up there on the screen!"

In Frances' case, the plan is to become a professional dancer, even though most of her moves "look like mistakes." She will accomplish this alongside her best friend forever, Sophie (Mickey Sumner, Sting's daughter), but forever is ending soon. Frances Ha plays like any other rom-com, except the ups and downs are between two women. Although, as one character tells Frances: "Sophie's a girl, you're both straight, so it has less real world possibilities."

There isn't much of a plot — girl loses girl, girl kind of gets girl back — but that leaves plenty of room for the sort of quippy small talk Lena Dunham delivers on Girls and gets called the voice of a generation. Much of it here is actually clever, if not drenched with the sort of irony these characters should be expressing about their lives (although Hot Chocolate's song Everyone's a Winner is a smart soundtrack exception). Baumbach keeps everything dialed down to medium cool, with occasional flashes of exuberance like Frances dancing down a street to the beat of David Bowie's Modern Love.

Mostly the movie is the best showcase so far for Gerwig's brand of lovely klutziness. She has been a welcome addition to otherwise pointless movies (Greenberg, the Arthur remake), smart ornamentation in fair movies like Woody Allen's To Rome With Love, and solid in indies few people watched (Damsels in Distress, Lola Versus). Gerwig has a contemporary everywoman appeal that's impossible to dismiss, making Frances' self-absorption easier to swallow and tasty, too. (Tampa Theatre) B+

Steve Persall, Times movie critic