Frances Halladay, in my opinion, is a little mentally unstable. She does and says things inappropriately, usually at the wrong times and ends up contributing to the discomfort of everyone around her. There’s also a certain overstated simplicity in the way she speaks; it’s as if her mind is only clicking and churning at half speed. She’s very much a sweetie, that’s for sure, but she analyses new developments and treats them as short-term obstacles. Her inability to take care of herself prevents her from seeing far into the future.
Frances Ha, of course, makes no mention of this. The screenplay, no matter which way you look at it, is meant to portray Frances as a likeable — maybe even loveable — 27-year old dancer, struggling to go through life. But there’s more in the performance. Frances is played by Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the movie with its director Noah Baumbach, and the subtleties in the way she moves, thinks, speaks and acts lead me to believe that maybe she is a simpleton, hidden by the complexities and sheen of the screenplay.
Hers is a thoroughly intriguing performance. I cannot pick out just one instance in which she displays subpar intellect; she must be observed and carefully scrutinised from start to finish. Her mouth seems to spill words long after her mind has conjured them. And even after her mind has stopped conjuring words, her mouth is still spilling them. She goes on and on. Take the dinner scene with her fellow dancer, Rachel (Grace Gummer), and her friends. She is unstoppable. Perhaps this is how she is in front of strangers, but can she not detect when her stories of high school friends and their past lovers fall on deaf ears? At times she can be very difficult to absorb.
Still, she succeeds at being likeable. She drifts through life with a certain naiveté, and even if she can’t be believed as a person, she can be believed as a character representing a person, whose life is crumbling around her, one lost friend and failed job at a time. She moves from apartment to apartment without ever blending in or making an impact. She’s late on rent. Her male roommates think she’s “un-date-able”. When her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) moves out of their shared apartment and hooks back up with an old flame, the deterioration of their friendship is real. Her struggles to find a proper job are also real; we get that the dancing company she works for is really hard-pressed to offer her a permanent place in its troupe and not merely flipping her the bird and telling her to take her dancing shoes elsewhere. We also get that she is nice enough to earn a little more out of life, which only seems to want to abandon her.
Frances Ha belongs to a group of movies that sit very quietly in the dark, by themselves, speaking a language that is shared amongst members of the same group. They are known as mumblecore movies, and they are usually identified by their low budgets, plain scripts, amateur acting and lack of any real outside interference. I can’t say I’m all that familiar with this genre, and there are many times in Frances Ha when I questioned the skill of the players, but the cast surrounding Gerwig turns out to be very capable, even if at first they are not. I particularly enjoyed Frances’ relationship with her roommate Benji (Michael Zegen). They’re there, yet not quite there. And the rawness of their performances lends a charm to their conversations. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty of this movie, I’m about as befuddled by the character of Frances as she is about the decisions in her life. She’s always a “lladay” short of a full name.
Best Moment | Nope.
Worst Moment | Frances trying to get Rachel to engage her in friendly slapping. Why? Why would you do something like that? See, that is why I think she’s a simpleton. Her mind isn’t running on all cylinders.