BY CLAIRE WARD-BEVERIDGE
Noah Baumbach’s seventh feature film, Frances Ha, begins with a montage that will make anyone who’s had a best pal swoon. Frances (Greta Gerwig) and her (for lack of a better term) hetero-life-mate are seen bounding around Manhattan and Brooklyn where they live together and doing things that are bordering on saccharine but somehow stay within the realm of charm and possibility. You’ll wish that there was such a thing tailor-made for every near and dear friendship you’ve had in your life and that you could watch it while slightly drunk and just cry and cry. Friendship and love are not mutually exclusive in this film and the relationship between the two acts as the crux for the plot and emotional energy that carry it.
Frances is 27, a dancer and a fiercely devoted friend who is trying to figure herself out and if anyone reads just that sentence (somehow) as an entry point to this film, they will probably be turned off.
It’s the screenplay and melancholic charm and loveliness of Gerwig that really make this film as wonderful as it is. She wrote it with the director (they are currently in a romantic relationship) and I feel that it’s his best film yet. One thing (of several) that all of his previous works lacked seemed to be a female presence that wasn’t totally acrid and hateful. Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but few male screenwriters can write about women and accurately portray both the likeable and deplorable qualities.
So, in a sense it bears repeating: watching Greta Gerwig winsomely twirl her way through some scenes and stumble through others is so oddly refreshing–I challenge anyone watching not to love her in a very honest way. And I mean honest in the sense that sometimes you are just cringing as she tries to explain herself to someone and sometimes she really breaks your heart. Or you just want to give her a little encouraging shoulder-grab/shake and be like, “Girl! Come on!” Either way, you love her and you want her to be happy. You want her friendship to outlast/outlive/outrun everything else that’s going on in her life, save for a few other select things that are close to being as important–self-love, self-discovery, a career and art. Can you guess what was omitted from that list? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with ‘m’ and ends in ‘en’.
As I left the theatre with my friends, I felt both a chest-aching sadness and bursting happiness simultaneously, like when you’re sitting around with your loved ones laughing so hard and then all of a sudden you have a sort of existential crisis-type jolt and feel a pang of the impermanence and beauty of life, etc. If I saw a film once every 5 years that gave me such feelings upon credits rolling, I’d be totally happy with the state of cinema.
Claire Ward-Beveridge is a freelance writer & photographer who lives in North Parkdale, Toronto and her rattled brain. She loves Werner Herzog and depressing English dramas. Follow her @clairewarb.