Noah Baumbach, the celebrated writer/director behind such films as The Squid and the Whale, Kicking and Screaming and Greenberg, swaps his usual serious and acerbic approach for something altogether more frothy and light-hearted, but still astute and insightful.
The film centres on the eponymous Frances (played wonderfully by a beguiling Greta Gerwig), a 27-year-old struggling to make it as a professional dancer while dealing with her longtime friend and roommate moving out and having to find her own place, in more ways than one. “I’m not a real person yet,” she says. What does that even mean? That’s just one of the many things the film explores during its swift 86 minute runtime, but Baumbach finds a way of not making it preachy.
Much of that is down to a cloak of well observed, frequently hilarious and highly quotable dialogue co-written by Greenberg and Gerwig, delivered by talented actors who make it look effortless. Gerwig is always fun to watch, and she shone in Baumbach’s previous film Greenberg, but this is the sort of role she was born to play. You simply can’t take your eyes off her throughout as she endears you to what could have been an annoying character (the same thing that Sally Hawkins did in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky), nailing the post-modern aimlessness of being between things in life. There’s fine supporting work from Adam Driver (who some may recognize from the HBO series Girls) and Michael Zegen as Frances’ roommates Lev and Benji, as well as from Mickey Sumner as her best friend, Sophie.
Shooting it in soft-focused black-and-white makes it pleasing on the eye and gives it a sort of timeless quality in spite of its modern themes and characters. And while the colourless visuals may be at odds with the quirky tone to begin with, it soon settles into a beautiful and oddly entertaining groove that stays consistent for the rest of the film, right up until the utterly perfect punchline ending.
There’s a comfortable rhythm to Baumbach’s latest film, a laid-back sense of comfort about it even as it consistently throws up capriciousness to keep you on your toes. While it may be whimsical and even arbitrary it’s also deft and full of little truths, confident as much in its themes as in its style. Sitting somewhere between Woody Allen’s Manhattan and the aforementioned series Girls, with some added Wes Anderson-esque quirkiness thrown in for good measure, Baumbach has come up with an offbeat and idiosyncratic character dramedy that’s easy to admire and even easier to enjoy.