Frances Ha, the latest collaboration between director and writer Noah Baumbach, and actress and writer Greta Gerwig, played the San Francisco International Film festival earlier this month, and they were both in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. They spoke about their collaboration process–in which Gerwig did a lot of the writing solo–and how Baumbach approached directing her script. Interestingly, there wasn’t a lot of on-set improvisation, as Baumbach prefers that everything be solid in the script beforehand. That approach is a lot more evident in his past collaborations with Wes Anderson, (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr. Fox), than it is in France Ha, which has a very low-budget, loose, and borderline mumblecore feel to it.
What the two of them didn’t really discuss was their personal relationship. They are, in fact, a couple, and while that doesn’t necessarily have any baring on the work they do together, I think in Frances Ha, it’s very important.
The film is centered Frances (Gerwig), a post-college woman who’s a bit adrift. She aspires to be a professional dancer, (modern dance is her form of choice), but doesn’t get the breaks she hopes for with her company. She has a best friend, Sophie (played by Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter), and theirs is one of those twentysomething friendships that has all the intensity of romance, while being strictly platonic. (It brought to mind the similarly-themed Walking and Talking, although the characters in that movie are slightly older.)
When Sophie decides to get serious with her boyfriend, the friendship starts to fracture, and this sends Frances into a bit of a tailspin, as she attempts to face adulthood alone.
Greta Gerwig is in every scene of this movie, which, if you’re a Gerwig fan, is a good thing. She’s always had a very quirky and engaging screen presence, and in every movie she’s in, no matter how big or small the role, she stands out.
The movie’s black and white photography, New York setting, and concentration on smart but neurotic white people may bring to mind the work of Woody Allen. And that’s also where the relationship between Gerwig and Baumbach comes into play.
Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan are both love letters to Diane Keaton–who he was romantically involved with for several years–and the city of New York. There’s a similar love on display in Frances Ha. Gerwig has never looked more luminous in a movie, and her character is made to be very sympathetic, despite her some serious character flaws. It’s not enough to say the camera loves her; it’s very clear the man behind that camera does too.
At the festival’s post-screening Q&A, Gerwig answered a question about the film’s ultimate resolution, and I really wish I could quote her, but it’s kind of a big spoiler. So I’ll just paraphrase. Frances Ha isn’t about huge triumphs. Instead, it’s about how little life changes, and accepting some truths about yourself, can lead to tremendous happiness.