Warm, earnest, funny, and generous almost to a fault, Frances Ha is one of the most endearing films of 2012. Serving as an ode to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, while paying tribute to French New Wave classics such as The 400 Blows and À bout de souffle, Frances Ha is a beguiling mixture of awkward and realistic, and its narrative is blessedly simple and disarmingly sweet.
As the title character, Greta Gerwig is downright irresistible, enchanting and transporting in a way that is truly magical. She guides you alongside her and makes you sympathize with her struggles. You wince at her attempts to break free of the irresponsible; you smile at her sincerity; and you laugh as she ushers you on a journey of running, falling, and dancing through New York.
Director Noah Baumbach, whose greatest achievement remains the painfully personal and acute divorce drama The Squid and the Whale, delves into more upbeat territory while staying true to his quirky talents and his ear for naturalistic dialogue. The screenplay, co-written with Gerwig, almost floats off the screen and is riddled with some wonderful one-liners. The film’s black-and-white palate functions effortlessly on multiple levels, enriching the past, complementing the story, displaying the city, and avoiding gimmickry and distraction from the film’s real star.
Ultimately, Frances Ha is a pitch-perfect paean to the transition of the mid-20s, with a spirited script, a killer soundtrack, a perfect ending, and an utterly charming heroine. With festival season knocking and several great films behind us, we are finally churning full-speed toward Oscar season.