Noah Baumback, 86 mins, 15

Jonathan Romney on Frances Ha: Even hipster goddesses get the blues

3.00

Greta Gerwig is adorable to a fault in this contrived portrait of the growing pains of a young New Yorker

The American actress-writer Greta Gerwig is what they call an "It Girl" – although being an It Girl or Boy is no longer what it was. These days, it simply means: "You're It – you get to be on a magazine cover this week."

To be truly possessed of "It" – some indefinable, ineffable, glimmering onscreen attribute – is rare indeed. Whatever It is, though, Gerwig has it. An alumna of the no-budget US "mumblecore" school, Gerwig had an undeniable Star-Is-Born moment in Noah Baumbach's 2010 comedy Greenberg, then she came on like a reincarnation of the Hollywood comedy goddesses of yore in Whit Stillman's unapologetically arch Damsels in Distress.

Gerwig's new film with Baumbach, which they've co-written, might be classified as mumblecore deluxe: a hip, half-gritty, half-glossy comedy that's also transparently a love letter to its star. Frances Ha is a good-naturedly nervy portrait of a young New Yorker trying to sort out her mess of a life. Not a catastrophe, just a mess. In her kitchen, Frances complains, "I'm trying to make a frittata but it's really more of a scramble" – and Frances Ha shows her trying to find the right consistency for her life's frittata.

An apprentice in a dance company, Frances has a flatmate Sophie (an impressive, spiky Mickey Sumner), with whom she loves hanging out and doing crazy things: tap dancing in the park, peeing on the subway, cooking up plans for world domination ("So many honorary degrees!"). Then Sophie decides that she wants to live with her broker boyfriend – and worse still, takes the kettle.

Unusually for a contemporary film about a single woman trying to sort herself out in Manhattan, this one isn't about romance – although a forlorn running joke has Frances constantly referred to as "undateable".

Instead, the film is structured around the various places where Frances finds herself living – intertitles flash up addresses from Brooklyn to Chinatown to a PO Box in Poughkeepsie, where she spends the summer waitressing at her alma mater, Vassar College.

With her gangling moves and love of play fighting ("It's super fun!"), Frances is an exuberant dork, the sort who'll run down the street and execute a sudden perfect pratfall. At times, she's almost a female equivalent of Kramer in Seinfeld, and oddly asexual. But a little Frances goes a long way; she can be quite gratingly adorable. What redeems her is the natural strangeness of Gerwig's manner: her slurred throaty diction, her restless face, as if she's constantly swallowing down some inconvenient thought that's popped into her head.

The script is full of goofily urbane one-liners (Sophie, looking round the Chinatown pad: "This apartment is very… aware of itself"). And hipsters will enjoy the homages to French cinema: along with Sam Levy's handsomely rough-edged black-and-white photography, there are lashings of veteran composer Georges Delerue on the soundtrack.

I like the fact that this is a very loosely sewn film, made from scraps and fragments of varying size. There are nice self-enclosed sequences: Frances's Christmas with her folks (played by Gerwig's own parents), and an impromptu weekend in Paris, where Frances sleeps through an entire day. But you can't get away from a feeling of inconsequentiality: when Frances is broke, you know it's only a temporary, boho-chic Adventure in Brokeness (and the dialogue knowingly points to this).

For all its merits, I can't say I enjoyed Frances Ha that much: it's droll rather than actually funny, and I didn't feel that inclined to spend time with its characters, who are generally tiresome but not in an interesting way (unlike Ben Stiller's anti-hero in the memorably sour Greenberg). And perhaps Frances Ha is a little too neatly a film of its moment: with American independent cinema largely in the doldrums, little could be more sure-fire for an art-house crowd right now than a New York femme-com that's sweeter and less scabrous than Lena Dunham's TV series Girls (whose gawky regular Adam Driver plays one of Frances' flatmates).

Watching Frances Ha is a bit like getting an invitation to a hip downtown party that's going to be a lot of fun – and Greta Gerwig's going to be there! Only you find it's not nearly as enjoyable as you hoped, no one can sustain a coherent conversation, and even Gerwig's trying a bit too hard.

Baumbach's film gives the impression that it's easy-going, natural and off the cuff, and I wish it were. It's just … very aware of itself.

Critic's Choice

The tough Swedish thriller Easy Money gives a streetwise twist to the boom in Scandi-noir, while Grace Kelly and Ray Milland star in Hitchcock's re-released Dial M For Murder (1954), in which the Master offers his wry take on 3D thrills.

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment