Undatable

Berlinale 2013 – encore: Frances Ha (Panorama / United States / Director: Noah Baumbach)

By Sascha Krieger

Frances is twenty seven and drifting through life. Her dancing career doesn’t take off, she clings to her best friend unaware that she is ready to move on, makes her boyfriend break up with her and stumbles from one unstable environment to another. She is silly and childish and unreliable, a woman refusing or unable to grow up when all around her do. She has no aim, no goal, but loads of insecurity and doubts. She is obnoxious, annoying, clumsy, but also charming much in the way a child would be. She also isn’t looking too bad which helps. A young woman at a crossroads, unsure what to do with hr life – not an entirely new subject. Director Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig who plays Frances wrote the script for Frances Ha together – and they have managed, as writers, director and actress, to turn and old story into a humorous, touching and imaginative tale about how hard it can be to grow up when all you want to do is live but don’t know how.

The film is shot in black and white which gives it a sense of distance, like a wondrous tale from long ago. at the same time it has an impressionistic feel: with its fast-paced almost fragmentary sequences of fleeting moments, its jumping in and out of Frances‘ life without explaining or narrating the periods in-between, its use of music which can highlight emotional peaks, serve as ironic counterpoints or give the scene an almost fairy-tale touch. It is a series of moments, the fragments, a life consists of, and a collection of places. Places she lives at or visits, a topography of  someone without a clear direction. The turning points are not of the most original sort – the friend moving on to a more steady life and an engagement, her career stalling – yet, Frances Ha has a directness and a very unique rhythm that keep them fresh and, one could say real. This is at least partly the fault of Gerwig whose portrayal of this drifter is entirely believable and at the same time just a notch over the top to make it humorous and install a very fine sense of irony into the story of this „undatable“ (as goes a running gag) woman.

Frances Ha will not go down in film history, it is after all, first and foremost, a lightly entertaining film with what could be called an optimistic if not a happy ending as Frances finally finds a sense of direction and a purpose in life. However, with its very own rhythm and cinematographic language, its distancing black and white and its captivating protagonist, Baumbach’s latest film is a consistent and rather different take on the old subgenre of the coming of age film: very enjoyable, at times moving, always engaging and not all that easily forgettable. Which is no small feat.

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