I wasn't immediately sold on Noah Bambauch as a director, as I found The Squid and The Whale excruciating, but I guess that was the point. Margot at the Wedding warmed me a little, but Greenberg sold me and also showed me Greta Gerwig for the first time, a natural, she shone beside Ben Stiller's bleak Greenberg. Gerwig really reminded me of Chloe Sevigny's character in Walt Stillman's brilliant, The last Days of Disco. So I wasn't surprised when she turned up as the lead in his first film in 13 years, Damsels in Distress! She is a light yet goofy presence on screen, a little off kilter yet earnest, her Lola in the fabulous anti-romance, Lola Versus is a testament to that.
But onto Frances Ha, Gerwig is Frances, a twenty something living in New York with her bestie, Sophie (played with awkward beauty by Mickey Sumner, daughter of one Gordon Sumner!). Frances is a dancer...sort of, desperately trying to make her way into a prestigious dance company with moderate results. When Sophie announces she is moving to a funkier part of New York that Frances can't afford, Frances is left homeless and bereft. Her love of Sophie is supreme and without her best friend in almost every moment of her life, she is shattered. Frances moves from place to place, trying to find her own place in this big city and make her way as a dancer. Yes, there are shades of Girls and Hannah Horvath here, especially when Adam Driver turns up in the mid section of the film.
Frances is big on the dreams, but possibly less on the ability, but she just doesn't seem to know or care, and that is what makes this film just wonderful. Frances is a dreamer, and just keeps on blundering through regardless. Her ability to pick herself up again and again after each wrong turn or disappointment, and her tenacity to do it with heart and a skip in her step, made my own heart soar.
The black and white cinematography adds to the charm of this film, so much so you simply forget there is no colour. I am unsure why Bambauch did this, possibly a homage to Woody Allen's Manhattan, and New York (and Paris) certainly look great in black and white. And then there's the soundtrack, a fabulous mix of classical and instrumental alongside poppy hits such as David Bowie's Modern Love, Hot Chocolate's Every 1's a winner and The Rolling Stones's Rocks Off...yes there was much dancing in our seats!
But it's Gerwig's clumsy sweetness that shines through, along with a great back drop of New York (and Paris) and a large supporting cast of small parts, and makes this the feel good movie of the year. It's feel good without being soppy or silly. It's funny without being bawdy or ridiculous. It's sublime and joyous! Movies like this are indeed a rarity, go now and see this gem, you won't be sorry. But be warned, you will fall in love with Frances and indeed Greta Gerwig herself.