BY MIRIAM RINN
Teenage girls often develop friendships that border on obsessions, and sometimes those friendships continue into young adulthood. Intimate and intense, such relationships can have an erotic edge to them, even when the women are sexually attracted to men. We are not sure that Frances is attracted to men in Noah Baumbach’s new tragi-comedy “Frances Ha,” but we are certain that she deeply loves her best friend and roommate Sophie. When Sophie pulls away to begin a grown-up life with her boyfriend Patch, Frances is heartbroken and angry and comes close to falling apart.
This synopsis makes “Frances Ha” sound like yet another spurned-woman-turns-psycho-killer tale, and nothing could be further from the film’s tender reality. Yet it is a reminder that just beneath Greta Gerwig’s luminous smile and goofy charm is a story that comes very close to desperation and tears. It’s not easy growing up, especially in a society where real jobs are rare and thousands of overeducated and indulged young people leave college believing the world is waiting for them.
Baumbach and Gerwig, who worked together in “Greenberg,” co-wrote the script, and it is hard to imagine that any other actress could have kept this fragmented, episodic story aloft. As Frances, Gerwig’s youthful, hope-filled face expresses pain and disappointment without ever succumbing to despair. Her coltish charm keeps the audience rooting for her, even when she is obnoxious and petulant and generally behaving like a four-year-old. Baumbach has consistently given us complicated, often hard-to-like protagonists in his films “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding;” Frances fits into that category, but here the camera views her with considerably more compassion.
Filmed in beautiful black-and-white with a loving nod to Woody Allen and the French New Wave, “Frances Ha” begins with Frances refusing to move in with her current boyfriend and then telling Sophie she loves her three times in quick succession. “We are like a lesbian couple who don’t have sex anymore,” Frances says, snuggling comfortably next to her in bed. In their mid twenties, Frances and Sophie and their friends are hanging around New York’s trendier districts, hoping to establish themselves as artists or consultants or something that pays enough for them to live rather than just survive. They are out of college but far from settled, at that stage when it’s fun to drift along, until it suddenly isn’t anymore.