“Frances Ha”: Noah Baumbach Finds Greta Gerwig's Best Side

A visually pithy victory of bittersweetness over cynicism, and therefore arguably a career highlight for director Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha shows with keen humor and without self-pity what it's like to be alive and in one's twenties and in New York and aware of one's potential slipping away. Greta Gerwig stars as an aspiring dancer whose signature move might be flightiness and whose slow drift toward true adulthood might also be away from her best friend, played by Mickey Sumner. Shot in sumptuous black and white, this subtly romanticized slice of life amounts to a minimal assembly of improbably resonant non-events, almost unthinkable as a film without the specific virtue of Gerwig's daffy, guileless poise. Otherwise Baumbach's style could be called homage-happy; it's classic Truffaut meets vintage Woody Allen meets Girls, with one direct lift — an exhilarating, freewheeling David Bowie-scored street dance — from Leos Carax's Mauvais Sang. What's key is how playfully at ease Baumbach seems among his many tasteful influences, including obvious muse Gerwig, his co-writer and vital spark. Inspired by her spontaneity, and scripted to cultivate it, the movie does turn up some occasional stilted line readings here and there, but periodic awkwardness also is shrewdly elemental to its charm. “I'm so embarrassed,” Frances confides at one point. “I'm not a real person yet.” True: She's a movie character, of just the sort we hope to encounter more often in life.

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