by Angelo Muredda There's a lot to love in Frances Ha, but the highlight is surely a tracking shot of star, muse, and co-writer Greta Gerwig clumsily bounding through the streets of Brooklyn to the sounds of David Bowie's "Modern Love." (In a daily dispatch for mubi.com, Fernando Croce astutely toasts her "galumphing radiance.") You could read this moment as either a joyous corrective to Michael Fassbender's miserable NYC jog in Shame or a direct lift, down to the song's abrupt stop, from Leos Carax's Mauvais sang--think of Gerwig as the Ginger to Denis Lavant's Fred. Or you could just accept it as the clearest expression of the film's ambling structure: a lovely headlong dive through traffic en route to somewhere safe but rewarding.
Gerwig plays Frances, an apprentice for a prestigious dance company and a member in good standing of the transitional class of twentysomethings who toil through pricey college educations and unpaid internships only to come out with massive debts and impossible rent bills. Uneasy about the prospect of moving in with her sort-of boyfriend, Frances finds she's far more in love with her roommate and best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), a dour sort who works for Random House despite not being much of a reader. When Sophie moves to Tribeca to better play the part of the aspiring professional, Frances is left in a minor tailspin--stranded without a career path, mourning for her faded platonic love, and romantically adrift between occasional roommates Miles ("Girls"'s Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen), who make their way in the city thanks to the generous allowance of their deep-pocketed parents and uncles.
There's no such benefactor waiting in the wings for Frances, yet the beauty of Noah Baumbach's warmest film to date is that it's perceptive about the shame of being theoretically poor among rich friends, and uncondescending: catering jobs and temp work, after all, are not the end of the world. Although the inky black-and-white photography recalls Gordon Willis's work in Manhattan, the film is much more in line with the modest tragicomedies of the French New Wave, with Frances figured as a better educated but just as coarse American cousin to Truffaut's Antoine Doinel, apologizing at one point for not being much of a "real person" just yet. The Small Change poster in her apartment is no accident, to that end, and the Georges Delerue music that scores her every whimsied action feels just right.
If the destination here seems oddly humane for a Baumbach movie, it's worth remembering that both Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg end with depressive sourpusses being humbled before a gentler person. It's tempting to read the film's further step in this gentler direction as a by-product of Baumbach and Gerwig's overlapping personal and professional relationships, and certainly Frances and Gerwig's respective backgrounds in dance and shared roots in Sacramento suggest there's a biographical angle to be found. The backstory hardly matters, though, when what's onscreen radiates such generosity. Programme: Special Presentation