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FRANCES HA

SYNOPSIS:
Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York, but she doesn't really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she's not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie (Mickey Sumner), but they aren't really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness.

Review by Louise Keller:
By shooting his film in black and white, it's appropriately the black and white issues that Noah Baumbach embraces in this film about friendship, dreams and the road ahead. Co-written with his leading lady Greta Gerwig, who gives a star performance as Frances, the dancer, drifter and dreamer who stumbles from one thing to another in a bid to discover which road she is really travelling. The film is like a breath of fresh air, with each gulp taken at the forks in the road that Frances encounters. It's fluid and free with as much spontaneity as a bird taking flight.

In the opening scenes, the relationship between Frances (Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is firmly established. They are best friends. They are flat-mates and soul-mates, sharing dreams and intimate details of their personal lives. But life comes in the way and suddenly things change when Sophie's romance begins with Patch (Patrick Heusinger) and living arrangements change. The spur of the moment tax-refund dinner that ends in embarrassment becomes a new opportunity as Frances moves from Brooklyn to a new New York address. There's an appealing optimism about Frances, who seems to bounce from one thing to the next and even when her chosen career of dancing falls by the way, she has a philosophical, if determined attitude. The way she dances is indicative of her approach to life - it is free-formed, uninhibited and a little clumsy.

It is not the physical but emotional distance when Sophie moves to Japan with Patch, that becomes the unspoken hurt between the girls. On an impulsive trip to Paris, the phone call that Frances makes to Sophie, as she sits alone in a sidewalk Parisian café, reflects all the built up pain and loneliness that has accumulated. There are no confidences; their conversation is in a vacuum, the statuesque Eiffel Tower glittering nearby in the dark Paris night.

Like a piece of plasticine moulded into the shape and form it requires, Sophie's return to college campus for summer camp to assume the role of the 'pourer', topping up the wine-glass of a generous benefactor is one she embraces with good spirit and humour. Irrespective of the situation, Frances behaves in the same ditzy way - she is like the stray dog that is always welcome and this occasion prompts an unexpected reunion.

This is a film in which not much may happen but at the same time, plenty happens - it all depends on your point of view.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Frances Ha is the title - and that's who the film is about, young Frances; and it's a virtuoso piece of writing, acting and direction to bring to the screen a 27 year old New Yorker who is more a dreamer than a pragmatist, more a romantic than a materialist and less able to control her life than to guess it. Greta Gerwig is a wonderfully vulnerable actress who is both ditzy and clever at the same time. She is smart but lacks control, she is is beautiful but lacks grace and she is loving but lacks love's traction. The phrase 'undateable' comes up often, and usually in relation to Frances. But what saves her and what saves the film is her indestructible optimism. And isn't that just America in the flesh.

Gerwig starred in Noah Baumbach's Greenberg (2010) as Florence Marr (perhaps a putative Frances Ha?) as well as appearing in Ivan Reitman's No String Attached and Woody Allen's To Rome With Love. What these directors see in the lovely Gerwig is a pliable actress who is evidently attractive, wants to be loved but finds herself getting in her own way.

Gerwig worked with Baumbach on the wonderfully naturalistic, sharply observed dialogue and that is certainly a highlight of the film - and there is plenty of it, because after all, women do talk and in New York talk is the universal currency. But it's not just the words; it's the delivery, the mawkishness, the clumsiness and the endearing bursts of frankness that make it engaging. It feels real in a way a social documentary might capture it.

Mickey Sumner is every bit as good (with less screen time) playing her best friend Sophie, with whom she shares and quarrels in equal measure, always ending up in a hug. Of the male characters, only Lev, played with subtle power by Adam Diver, is really sympathetic, although Michael Zegen's Benji is likeable enough as the hanger on who recognises Frances as a flawed gem.

The black and white cinematography seems like a bit of affectation but it doesn't detract and the soundtrack is textured but unintrusive. For all its engaging moments and appealing honesty, the film isn't quite as satisfying as it promises to be, and a sudden story jump in the third act is unexplained and a bit too neat.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

FRANCES HA (MA15+)
(US, 2012)

CAST: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Charlotte d'Amboise, Grace Gummer, Christine Gerwig, Gordon Gerwig

PRODUCER: Noah Baumbach, Scott Rudin, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lila Yacoub

DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach

SCRIPT: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sam Levy

EDITOR: Jennifer Lame

MUSIC: Sam Levy

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sam Lisenco

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 15, 2013

UPCOMING EVENT
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, Sydney.

Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.







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