‘Frances Ha’: Laugh it off

May 14, 2013

frances ha

I’ve mostly been a fan of the films of Noah Baumbach but, with “Frances Ha,” he loses me.

Never a filmmaker for whom story seemed particularly important, Baumbach collaborated here with his star, Greta Gerwig, for what feels like an amorphous and fragmentary story of a delusional young woman who doesn’t seem to want to grow up. The visual and musical references are to the French New Wave, but while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s still just cribbing from someone else’s test paper, isn’t it?

Frances wants to be a modern dancer but can’t quite catch on with the company where she apprentices. She is a flop with guys, never seeming to meet the kind of men who get her. Her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), also drifts away from her, having decided to actually marry the vague boyfriend she apparently has kept at arm’s length for years.

Which leaves Frances …where? Adrift in Manhattan, much as Gerwig was in the dreadful “Lola Versus.” Or the dreadful “Arthur,” in which she tried (and failed) to channel Liza Minnelli. (Doesn’t she know that’s what female impersonators are for?) Or ..

Well, OK, so I thought Gerwig was palatable in Baumbach’s sourly compelling “Greenberg.” Beyond that, however, I’m not one of these critics who, in order to sublimate a crush on Gerwig, has proclaimed her an actual actress. Because she’s not much of one.

Nor, from the evidence here, is she much of a writer. Baumbach is, but his brisk, acerbic wit seems to have been diluted by the watery Gerwig, who seems to have no flavor whatsoever. Her performances are weak tea, in the strongest sense of the term.

So is “Frances Ha.” Give it a miss and check into Baumbach’s earlier films, which have an astringently pointed wit that this film lacks. Watching “Frances Ha” is like viewing the outtakes from a movie you don’t want to see.

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