'Frances Ha' Is a 'Small Miracle Of A Movie'

The new film Frances Ha is a joint creation of star Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote the screenplay. Morning Edition's reviewer says it is everything an American independent film is supposed to be — an incisive, thoughtful portrait of an original character.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, the new film "Frances Ha" is the joint creation of star Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach. They co-wrote the screenplay and are a couple in real life. L.A. Times and Morning Edition film critic Kenneth Turan is a fan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Frances Ha" is a small miracle of a movie, honest and funny with an aim that's true. It's a timeless story of the joys and sorrows of youth, as well as a dead-on portrait of how things are right now for one particular New York woman who, try as she might, can't quite get her life together.

The Frances of the title is a 27-year-old apprentice dancer who is so many contradictory things, it's difficult to know where to begin or end in describing her. Frances is the kind of person who takes a trip to Paris she can't afford, and then cuts it short for no good reason. She's making a hash out of her own life because she doesn't know any better.

Frances is aware that adulthood is beyond her capacity at present. I'm so embarrassed, she says. I'm not a real person yet. The central person in Frances' life is her long-time roommate Sophie, beautifully played by Mickey Sumner. Sophie is more calculating and self-absorbed than her friend, and the shifting dynamic between these two is one of the film's key themes. Here they bicker about Sophie's boyfriend and their plans for the day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FRANCES HA")

GRETA GERWIG: (as Frances) Well, I've got to get going around five.

MICKEY SUMNER: (as Sophie) I thought we were hanging out.

GERWIG: (as Frances) We are.

SUMNER: (as Sophie) All day.

GERWIG: (as Frances) I have plans with Patch tonight. I told you.

SUMNER: (as Sophie) No, you didn't.

GERWIG: (as Frances) Yes, I did. I texted that to you.

SUMNER: (as Sophie) No, you didn't.

GERWIG: (as Frances) Yes, I did. Here.

SUMNER: (as Sophie) We're not doing that. It's not court.

GERWIG: (as Frances) I did text you, though.

SUMNER: (as Sophie) I believe you.

GERWIG: (as Frances) You don't have to believe me. I did text you.

TURAN: There is something unmistakably endearing about Frances, something winning in her vulnerability and the way she bounces back like a Joe Palooka toy from her many misadventures. She is unmistakably good-hearted, and it's impossible not to root for her.

Gerwig and Baumbach - best known for his earlier "The Squid and the Whale" - have created an American independent film that feels off-the-cuff, but is really made by a filmmaker in complete control of his resources. It's got the energy and verve of the French New Wave, but remains unmistakably itself.

If "Frances Ha" has a signature sequence, it's a long tracking shot of its namesake running fluidly through the streets of New York with David Bowie's "Modern Love" playing on the soundtrack. In that moment - in fact, in all of its moments - "Frances Ha" more than makes you feel hopeful about movies. It allows you to feel that way about life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MODERN LOVE")

DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) Never gonna fall for modern love. Walks beside me, modern love.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles times. You hear him on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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