Modern “Manhattan” Jun12

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Modern “Manhattan”

imageAs a conflicted admirer of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, I feel compelled to begin this review admitting the obvious influence.

Not because I delight in making the reference, but because I think director/writer Noah Baumbach and writer/star Greta Gerwig intend to remind us of it.

How can they not? It’s shot in black and white, follows the lives of intellectuals (or a close proximity thereof) in New York and mirrors Allen’s classic so closely it’s as if they intended it as fan fiction.

Frances Ha is certainly Manhattan‘s inferior when it comes to the visual palate, not that it’s trying to match it per se. Manhattan is a love letter to New York, but Frances Ha bests Allen’s classic, in my opinion, on the character and story level.

Not just because I get skeezed out when seeing Allen and Hemmingway together, but because the relationships are more sympthathetic, focused and redeemable.

Baumbach’s direction is strong, but the strength of Frances Ha is Gerwig’s performance. She’s proud but embarrassed, hopeful but afraid, charismatic enough to be one of your close friends but troubled enough to lovingly worry about her.

She embodies the wayward post-grad, Millennial modern woman so effortlessly it’s weird to see her credited under a different name. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She’s that good.

Though it is much more, Frances Ha is a tale about friendship and the stunted growth of one partner who bases too much of her adult life on a college relationship with her friend. How refreshing it is to see women at the center of this story, as opposed to men hopelessly sleeping around from one girl to the next, moping about meaning.


Frances and Sophie are best friends, they share an apartment, platonically sleep together and spend the majority of their lives amongst each other’s company. When Sophie decides to move in with someone else because the place is closer to what she’s always wanted, Frances is forced to separate from her and discover who she is on her own.

New York is both a foreboding and hopeful character here. The tiny bars and expensive apartments are a frightening necessity for Frances. Her friends may be able to afford lavish (to a point) living spaces but as a struggling dancer, she can barely make the rent.

At the same time, the “if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere” refrain of Sinatra’s ode to the Big Apple resonates in the distance. If she can accept herself as an entity separate from her best friend, Frances has the potential to succeed – but can she?

That’s the question here and I won’t spoil the answer, but suffice it to say, if you’re familiar with Baumbach’s other work, the resolution isn’t that simple.

However, for the first time I can remember, it’s well defined. Frances Ha is one of the best movies of the year.