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Movie Review: 'Frances Ha' -- 4 stars

Greta Gerwig dancing in "Frances Ha"

Greta Gerwig dancing in "Frances Ha" Credit: Greta Gerwig dancing in "Frances Ha"

Frances Ha
4 stars
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Rated R
Playing at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center

Typically, coming-of-age literature regards the end of youth as that period in your teens where the burdens and complications of the world first come into full view. Think of young Huck Finn’s journey along the Mississippi, say, or the stereotype-shattering Saturday morning detention in “The Breakfast Club.”

In theory, Frances (Greta Gerwig), the protagonist in Noah Baumbach’s wonderful “Frances Ha,” has long passed that point. She’s a 27-year-old aspiring dancer living in Brooklyn with best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and very much attuned to the day-to-day struggle to survive in the big, expensive city.

But the coming-of-age experience need not be restricted to that first, eye-opening moment. And in this exuberant film — which includes a soundtrack fueled by David Bowie’s “Modern Love” and expressive black and white images that give the city a romantic feel ala vintage Woody Allen — Baumbach and Gerwig have produced a moving portrait of one of those bellwether moments in life, when the realities of the future begin to overwhelm the present.

Put simply, the world has begun to zoom past our protagonist.

Sophie, of whom Frances repeatedly says “we’re practically the same person,” has moved out and begun dating a Wall Street type. The head of the dance company strongly hints that Frances will never be more than an apprentice. Friends begin talking of children and trips to Paris; Frances can’t even get a credit card.
With Gerwig, a soulful actress and preternaturally gifted physical comedian, front and center in every scene, the movie has an empathetic face. Her Frances is sweet, optimistic and hopelessly delusional, clinging to a lifestyle that’s been romanticized in the media and on television but is ultimately unsustainable for all but a lucky few.

Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) co-wrote the script with Gerwig and shot the movie on the sly. The project is infused with the tangible joy of filmmaking untethered by the restrictions of bigger budgets and movie star expectations.

It gets the spirit of New York exactly right: the constant striving, the reality that you’ll forever be surrounded by people who seem more accomplished than you and the deep satisfaction that comes with making it here, even if you have to reconstitute your definition of “making it.”

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