By Joan Ellis
Life as an aspiring something in New York in your 20s is often a walk on the edge of despair.
Noah Baumbach has directed a movie that captures the stone-cold aloneness of young adults in that period after they have left the college cocoon and before they have found jobs or partners. There is a particular cruelty in that kind of New York coldness.
The problem for Frances (Greta Gerwig) is that she is not a newly minted college graduate in temporary misery. She is 27, still earning little as an apprentice dancer, and it’s all about to get even worse. She shares an apartment with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) who announces unexpectedly that she is moving to the apartment of her boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger). Frances loses her only anchors: her roommate and the apartment they share.
How does she deal with it? For starters, Frances is a physical and verbal klutz. She runs joyfully through the streets of New York, but she will trip; she dances with a smile, but will miss a beat; and she can stop a conversation dead with non sequiturs. She mooches beds here or there, falls in with young men who are writing scripts, sculpting, or fashioning jokes they hope “Saturday Night Live” might like.
She tries to sustain herself by dipping into her own well of natural joy but, whether she spends an ill-conceived weekend in Paris on a credit card that came in the mail or soaks up the lights of New York at night, she is still passing temporarily through the lives of people who are just as dislocated as she is. This scattered age group navigates breakups with hurt feelings and spends long hours doing the laundry and running errands.
Nothing comes close to being a home because the roommates and addresses will change shortly, probably in a burst of sadness. After a Christmas visit to her West Coast parents, (played by Gerwig’s own parents), Frances returns to New York still running on empty.
Frances Ha is billed as a comedy, and you will manage to laugh at the awkward awfulness of the lives of these young people, knowing that sooner or later they will probably find a path to friends and jobs as a foundation for their lives. The good news is that a sharp script by Baumbach and Gerwig has caught the searing loneliness of starting out in the country’s most formidable city.
Gerwig, always unafraid of looking silly, takes her usual risks in playing Frances as a wonderful stew of great ingredients that haven’t even begun to blend at 27. Her Frances, we know, will one day give and take and actually fit in the inhospitable landscape that surrounds her.
Characteristically unpredictable, Baumbach and Gerwig opt for a small, symbolic final twist that tells us their characters will have to work things out for themselves, that their creators aren’t about to do it for them.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.
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