By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Manhattan meets mumblecore in “Frances Ha,” with Greta Gerwig in the title role. Or, if you prefer, director and co-writer Noah Baumbach (“Greenberg,” “The Squid and the Whale”) trying to compare Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” with his own black-and-white film about city slackers in their late 20s.
Baumbach is no match for Allen, whose detailed portrayals of life among New York’s comfortably theatrical set rival Norman Rockwell’s paintings for attention to telling details.
However, Gerwig in the title role is delightfully engaging in sort of a little lost puppy way. She is terrific at creating a totally believable screen presence that reflects today’s generation of bright folks saddled with overwhelming student loan debt and underwhelming plans for finding their life’s purose.
Frances faces her daily challenges with a perpetual smile that seems more driven by determination than by genuine happiness. She fancies herself as a dancer, though from what we see she has no particular terpsichorean talent.
The dance company’s artistic director sees the same thing, gently telling Frances there won’t be a place for her when their “Nutcracker” goes into rehearsal soon.
This loss of employment, coupled with the decision by Frances’ roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) to move out at the end of their lease, sends the financial side of Frances’ life into a high-speed spiral.
She bounces from friend’s apartment to friend’s apartment, waving and weaving through topical tangles of troubled relationships and casual dates that sometimes end up at awkward dinner parties.
“Frances Ha” is not about the plot, but always about the atmosphere of her life. The “Ha” at the end of her name is not laughter, or cynicism. It’s more about never having enough space to spell out the rest of her name.