Review: Quirky heroine an endearing mess in 'Frances Ha'

Frances (Greta Gerwig) transcends the tag of lovable loser in “Frances Ha.”

Frances (Greta Gerwig) transcends the tag of lovable loser in “Frances Ha.”

Frances lives in New York, but she doesn't really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she¹s not really a ...

Rating: R for sexual references and language

Length: 86 minutes

Released: May 17, 2013 Limited

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver, Grace Gummer, Mickey Sumner, Patrick Heusinger

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig

More info and showtimes »

Some films strive for quirkiness but don’t quite reach it. Others are born with it, and we love them either because or in spite of it.

“Frances Ha” falls into the latter category. It’s the distaff version of the usual self-indulgent-man-child-finding-himself indie dramedy (though, to be fair, we see plenty of mainstream takes on the same male-centric theme).

Directed by Noah Baumbach from a script he co-wrote with his “Greenberg” star, Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha” is a sweetly sincere story about a woman who needs to get her act together. Apparently, 27 is the age by which this feat should be accomplished. At least, that’s the age Frances (Gerwig) is, and all of her peers seem to have gotten the memo.

Frances lives with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), her best friend from college, in a pleasant apartment in Brooklyn. They enjoy the same jokes, make fun of the same people and generally hold true to Frances’ description that they are the same person with different hair.

True to co-dependent form, Frances puts her allegiance to Sophie above all other relationships, which inevitably proves disastrous because Sophie puts herself above any relationships. Sophie is doing well in the publishing world and is determined to follow her dreams. Frances thinks that she is following her dreams, but she’s still an apprentice in a financially struggling modern-dance company, with little hope of advancement or security.

As Sophie moves upward, Frances moves sideways — and even downward. Everyone likes her but judges her and finds her wanting. Frances, for her part, realizes that things aren’t going her way, but she just can’t see her way out of the mire.

Gerwig (who starred in Paul Harrill’s short “Quick Feet, Soft Hands”) embraces the uncertainties of Frances and makes her likable even as she makes viewers wince. There’s something about this accident-prone, generous and self-deprecating young woman that transcends the tag of lovable loser. Frances is impetuous and tactless, but she’s also honest when it counts.

The supporting characters are infinitely more calculating and self-centered. Sumner (daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler) makes Sophie seem opportunistic and cool. Adam Driver as Lev and Grace Gummer as Rachel look at Frances as though they were anthropologists studying an alien — interested, but detached.

Only Michael Zegen as Benji (“Rescue Me,” “Boardwalk Empire”) revs up a warmth that seems worthy of Frances’ attention. He’s a not-so-struggling young artist who talks big, but he’s also someone who appreciates the mess that is Frances.

Baumbach has lived in the world of questing young adults for a long time (can you believe “Kicking and Screaming” came out 18 years ago?!), but he still has the knack. He sets this story in beautiful black and white as an oxymoronic statement.

It’s really hard not to like “Frances Ha,” even when the lead character blunders her way through situations that are awkward and even disastrous. The fact that she is responsible for so much of her calamitous life makes her even more sympathetic.

If people learn from their mistakes, Frances deserves a PhD.

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