Even though Frances Ha had been on my list for a while, I was a little turned off by Noah Baumbach after While We’re Young, so it was actually my wife convincing me to see it rather than the other way around. And I’m glad she did, because it was far superior to While We’re Young.
First and foremost, it doesn’t have While We’re Young‘s series of cliches (young people are fun, old people with kids have lost their spark, old people acting young are funny, childless couples feel better once they get a baby) or its bizarre shrug of a philosophy (maybe Adam Driver is a bad person, but no one cares but Ben Stiller). Instead, Frances Ha puts its insufferable heroine front and center the entire time and lets you decide whether to root for her. But since Greta Gerwig is so likable, I ended up caring more about her than I ever did Ben Stiller or Adam Driver despite her flaws.
I’ve never seen a French New Wave film (what a shocking film nerd confession), but I have read about them a ton (which is probably even nerdier). Even with my inexperience, this felt like Baumbach’s homage. The black and white cinematography, the music, and the editing all were how I picture the French New Wave films I’ve read about. Apparently, I’m not the only one (1, 2, 3), so movie nerd credentials sustained.
Interestingly, my favorite scene in the film – Frances running down the street to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” – leans heavily on a very similar scene from the French film (but not French New Wave film) Mauvais Sang by Leos Carax. As much as I love the scene, I don’t understand why Baumbach didn’t try to get it in one take as Carax (mostly) did . . .
My second favorite scene comes near the beginning when Frances returns home to Sacramento to visit her parents (Gerwig’s actual parents). Baumbach cuts together a montage of several 5-10 second vignettes – singing Christmas carols, cooking together, going for a walk – that effortlessly capture what it’s like to visit your parents at that age. I don’t think any director is as skilled with this technique as he is.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, without spoiling, the ending. Unlike While We’re Young and its cop out of an ending, Frances Ha ends with our heroine as insufferable as ever but finally getting a break – all of which pays off in a satisfying reveal of the title.