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.

 

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
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.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015