Thursday, May 23, 2013


Films rarely address the awkward transition from feckless youth to dutiful adult in a way that actual grownups might recognize. Too often we spend 90 minutes in the tiresome company of a man-child whose Peter Pan syndrome finally beats us and his screen peers into weary submission. However, this wry, off-kilter comedy does a gender switch, and the whimsical results are discerning, sometimes melancholy, and always humane. 27-year-old Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives the life of a bohemian, barely making ends meet as a student teacher and apprentice at a New York dance studio. She refuses her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend’s offer to move in, because she prefers to continue living with current roommate and best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Until now she has blithely deferred adult responsibilities and relationships and has come to rely on her friend’s comforting, stable presence. She often says of Sophie, “We’re the same person.” After Sophie announces her plan to move out and spend more time with boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger), Frances’ carefree life begins to unspool. Noah Baumbach & Gerwig’s script feels daft and unruly, not unlike Frances herself. Director Baumbach matches this tone with a loose, irreverent shooting style reminiscent of the French New Wave films of the 1960s, nicely evoked by Sam Levy’s unfussy black and white cinematography. As the unmoored Frances bounces from the couch of rakish Lev (Adam Driver) and adoring Benji (Michael Zegen) to her parents’ (played by Gerwig’s mother and father) home in California to dance colleague Rachel’s (Grace Gummer) apartment to a weekend in Paris to a summer job at her rustic alma mater, she begins to confront the compromises of adulthood. Gerwig’s canny performance keeps us on Frances’ side even as we long to shake some sense into her, and Sumner’s grounded Sophie makes the perfect foil for flighty Frances. We recognize the perfection of their match and feel their growing pains as the friendship necessarily evolves. The witty final shot is both button and grace note that clarifies the film’s enigmatic title.

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