Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a dancer in New York City who is finding trouble getting work since her student days of a few years before, but she is in touch with her old school as an available understudy and carries out classes for them for the little kids all the while waiting for news of a job in one of the local shows. But she isn't too bothered by her lack of success, not when she has a great friend like Sophie (Mickey Sumner) to live with, if anything she's closer to her than she is to her boyfriend Dan (Michael Esper), especially in light of their recent split when he asked her to move in with him and she declined because she was so content living with Sophie. But nothing lasts forever...
Mid-life crises get earlier and earlier according to Frances Ha, another collaboration between actress and writer Greta Gerwig and director and her co-writer Noah Baumbach which found him softening his caustic approach, though was no less clear-eyed in his examination of one young woman's attempts to get a handle on adult life. Frances may be twenty-seven years old, but she is too immature to get her act together and forge a definite path through her approaching years, so when the anchor in that, Sophie, drifts away from her she is all at sea, bouncing from friend to friend, apartment to apartment, and with no one offering her any real guidance. Not that she's able to guide herself either.
With Gerwig in every scene, she had to prove herself up to the task which she did admirably, but it was not without issues, as some viewers found her character so cluelessly flighty that she was positively irritating. Those opening sequences were a real test of the patience if quirky was not your preferred form of entertainment, and you could be forgiven for bailing out early if Frances and her eccentricities were rubbing you up the wrong way, but what the film worked out was that even the most superficially silly people are still human beings with thoughts and feelings. Therefore when she begins to see her life crumble through indecision and everyone else moving on except her, there's real emotional pain there.
Not that Frances is keen to admit it, being an upbeat sort of person, but her harried nerves showed in scenes where she got drunk and started saying inappropriate things, unwilling to acknowledge that she is being left behind professionally and socially. She tries to salve this by acting on impulse, as if having something "interesting" to do is all she needs to attract good fortune, so for example she heads off to Paris for a weekend on hearing a guest she was at a dinner party with has an apartment there. Naturally, once she gets to that supposedly romantic location she finds it's not so much fun be there all alone, and ends up wandering the streets in a state of isolation, made all the more heartbreaking for her when she gets a phone call from Sophie inviting her to her now-faraway leaving party.
Baumbach and Gerwig were making allusions throughout to French cinema - this was shot in crisp black and white - from the New Wave of the sixties to a more modern movie in Leos Carax's Mauvais Sang when Frances dances down the street to the strains of David Bowie's hit Modern Love just like Denis Lavant did, so this was nothing if not aspirational. Whether it actually attained those heights was debatable, but at least this was its own entity rather than a slavish remake, and Gerwig went to strenuous efforts to keep her character compelling and believable, almost to the point that she could be seen as resistable, so intensely do her emotions come across. This might have been an exercise in the filmmakers tripping up a carefree personality and putting their collective foot on her head to ensure she has a harsh lesson in just how cruel and random life can be, with everything Frances held dear slipping away from her for good as she failed to prove she could be an adult, but thankfully they actually liked foolish Frances, and allowed her to learn on the way to a happy ending.