Frances Halladay - with a name too long to fit in that little name slot by the apartment block buzzers - is a late-twenties Sacramento native (like Gerwig) perusing her artistic dreams in New York. Her boyfriend bores her, her dance career is perpetually one step from success and her most important relationship is her semi-unrequited best-friendship with successful Sophie (Sting's daughter Mickey Sumner). For all this, she is irrepressibly joyous, witty and unpretentious, the kind of person you’d like to know. It’s like she lives in an 80s movie, there’s even a dancing-down-the-street sequence set to Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’.But as Sophie starts growing up and making plans with her banker boyfriend, things for Frances stop being quite so stable. As those around her are moving on, getting jobs and settling down, she is mooching from one friend’s sofa to the next, just a couple of years after that sort of stopped being acceptable. In-jokes fall flat outside of the partnership where they were created, and before long comes moment of learning through a third party of your estranged friend’s big news - the sad realisation that it is often less ‘Best Friends Forever’ than best friends for now...
With its black and white palette, overt quirkiness, and more than a couple of (hilarious) trust-fund hipsters, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film irritated some, but for me it mercifully managed to stop short of Allen-esque self-awareness. This has some beautifully honest moments, brilliantly observed female dynamics and due to Gerwig’s performance, real heart. The script felt almost part-improvised and naturalistic, instead of polished and contrived, and it’s all set to a cracking soundtrack.If for nothing else there are a couple of set pieces of genius. When Frances flies back to Sacremento to spend the holidays with her parents (played by Greta’s own folks) we see such a seemingly inconsequential segment of the return to small town safely at Christmas, that will be reassuringly recognisable to many, and is truly lovely to watch. Back in New York we see that crushing fear that comes from a written-off Sunday that once had such potential, played out so perfectly.
Greta Gerwig is incredible; Frances is so truthfully and naturally portrayed, and when required, understated. It’s a bit like when you watch the Before films and you just want to be Julie Delpy.
A sad and uplifting film with genuine laughs and knowing reflections, this is one of my favourite films of the year so far.