Reminiscence is the most persistent motif of online film discourse. When discussing an old movie, the phrase “this would never get made today,” reverberates around film Twitter and Letterboxd like a boomerang, a toy that would also never get made today. Movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Basic Instinct” are frequent perpetrators of cinephile nostalgia. The entire comedy genre of the 20th century is another.
As a peruser of such discussions, I used to agree with the phrase. But then I saw “Frances Ha,” the 2012 (platonic) romantic comedy starring Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner. The film is an ode to the French New Wave; both literally with its black and white aesthetic and figuratively with its drifting, neo-realistic plot. Directed by Noah Baumbach and written by both Gerwig and Baumbach, “Frances Ha” has no right to be a 21st century product.
When I first saw the title card for “Frances Ha” bobbing through my Netflix queue, I thought, “well, this looks pretentious.” And I had every right to think that; most Baumbach movies are lauded in postmodern sardonicism that seem too inside baseball for non New Yorkers like me to understand. Plus, monochrome is the color palette of conspicuous a-holes (Sorry “Mank”).
But eventually I decided, “Hey, I’ve got 90 minutes and Adam Driver is in it, so why not?” And thank god I did, because “Frances Ha” is an offbeat charmer that made me laugh, cry, and dance. The reason is Greta Gerwig, who’s brilliant as the titular Frances. Her gawky physical humor is hilariously real and her chemistry with Sumner is palpable, as the critics say.
However, what stood out to me is Gerwig’s writing, and her collaboration with Baumbach. She matches his famously quick dialogue, but also adds a sincerity absent in other Baumbach films. “Frances Ha” is essentially a movie about a woman stuck in arrested development, and like the TV show by the same name, could’ve been steeped in irony. The film is very funny, but it never forgoes its candor.
If you’re a fan of Gerwig and her films, I highly recommend “Frances Ha.” Or if you’re feeling down and need to watch someone else struggle through life in order to accept your own plight, I also recommend “Frances Ha.” Regardless of what category you fall under, the film is streaming on Hulu and available to rent on Amazon Prime.