There's a familiar joy to this story of a young woman (not a very young woman) holding onto a kind of innocence even as the particular realities of life in New York (rent, moving, shifting loyalties within her social circle, less-than-abundant work opportunities) threaten to overwhelm her. Woody Allen and Hal Hartley previously, eloquently captured the lives of such people and their moment in this city around them, and now co-writers Noah Baumbach (director, knowing, perceptive) and Greta Gerwig (actor, title role, luminous) capture their moment.
Gerwig's performance steers well clear of the manic pixie too often seen in urban indies, bringing incredible dimension and warmth to Frances, generously sharing her ups and downs with us. Gerwig is amazing at showing us Frances' life - in just one moment, for example, she gives us volumes of information in her non-verbal response to a letter from the IRS. And we feel her astonishment later in the film as everyone around her at a college function seem to be simultaneously losing their shit - nothing tells us that this is a turning point for Frances except for the way Gerwig portrays her reactions, and her subsequent, infectious renewal of spirit.
Gerwig is surrounded with a supporting cast playing palpably real characters (Michael Zegen is particularly strong as Benji, a roommate whose kinship with Frances seems particularly strong for the emphasis NOT placed on it). If you've spent any time in New York, you've met these people. Their lives resonate believably here, delivered by Baumbach and Gerwig with documentarian intimacy. But Frances Ha moves with the breeziness of Hollywood's classic musicals, an old school affiliation hit home by the gorgeous black-&-white cinematography and veteran composer Georges Delerue's music. It earns every emotion it pulls from its audience, and it's surprising how strong those emotions often are. I'm using a lot of big words to try and express, contain these emotions, but I'm not sure they're working. "Movie of the Year" is so much more concise. And probably right,