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In 'Frances Ha,' Greta Gerwig shines

September 03, 2012|By John Horn
  • Greta Gerwig in "Frances Ha."
Greta Gerwig in "Frances Ha." (Pine District Pictures )

The title character in “Frances Ha,” a 27-year-old woman whose life is headed in any number of directions but few of the good, calls herself “undatable.” But anyone who saw writer-director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) and actor and co-writer Greta Gerwig’s (“Greenberg”) collaboration at the Telluride Film Festival would have a very different opinion of Frances: She’s among the most winsome women at the entire festival.

A minimalist movie shot in black and white in New York and several other locations, “Frances Ha” is a big-hearted depiction of a colorful character that will remind more than a few people of some of their former girlfriends, for better and worse. Frances may not have a steady job or relationship, but she’s full of a joyous wit and indomitable spirit. The low-budget production, which arrived in Telluride without a domestic theatrical distributor, is likely to land a deal soon given its strong audience and critical reaction.

Frances (her truncated last name isn’t explained until the film’s final frames) is more than just roommates with Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frances compares the BFFs to “a lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex anymore” and says of her and Sophie, “We went to college together but we’re the same person.” So when Sophie moves out, Frances isn’t just left homeless, she’s emotionally adrift.

A dancer who is not quite good enough to land a company job, Frances flits about looking for some sort of anchor. She may drink too much at times, say slightly the wrong thing in social situations and spend money she doesn’t have, but Frances never wallows in despair. Rather, she looks at every failure as more experience than setback. “I’m not a real person yet,” she says matter-of-factly.

When she choreographs a modern dance piece that would look to most people as accomplished, Frances remarks, “I like things that look like mistakes.” The movie is filled with similarly clever dialogue; in one fight with Sophie, Frances remarks, “Don't treat me like a three-hour brunch friend.”

Gerwig, who is Baumbach’s girlfriend, was nearly overwhelmed at her film’s first screening Saturday, when the sound system failed repeatedly. “I'm gonna start crying again if I talk about it,” Gerwig said of the film. “I've never had a happier experience making anything.”

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