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Modern fairy tale oozes with quirky optimism

Greta Gerwig, right, as Frances, with Adam Driver as Lev in “Frances Ha.”
Greta Gerwig, right, as Frances, with Adam Driver as Lev in “Frances Ha.”

Noah Baumbach’s playful, effervescent comedy “Frances Ha” is the story of a young woman’s quest to find an apartment in New York. That’s an arduous task for most ordinary, gainfully employed people. But Frances (Greta Gerwig) is neither ordinary nor employed. She’s a relentless optimist who always believes success is just around the corner, even though she’s an apprentice for a dance company that refuses to hire her full time and her longtime roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of musician Sting) announces she’s moving out of their Brooklyn apartment to live with her boyfriend.

“We’re like a lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex anymore,” Frances says, hoping her best friend won’t abandon her. But both women are edging on 30, and Frances is still behaving like a young 20-something, taking life one day at a time, living spontaneously in the moment without giving much thought to the future.

“Frances Ha,” which Baumbach co-wrote with Gerwig (his real-life girlfriend), was shot in glorious black and white and edited with the jumpy rhythms and unexplained time lapses of the French New Wave (one wonderful scene, in which Frances runs and dances through the streets of New York to the tune of David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” feels like a direct shout-out to the romp through the museum of Godard’s “Band of Outsiders”). Instead of serving as a distraction, the filmmaking style plays off Frances’ indefatigable spirit, helping us understand how this sometimes-hapless young woman, who in one scene offers to pay for her date’s dinner but then finds out the restaurant doesn’t take debit cards, refuses to let life get her down.

For a spell, Frances becomes roommates with two hip downtown artists, one of them played by Adam Driver (HBO’s “Girls”), which helps underscore the film’s thematic similarities to that show – the coming-of-age of women who haven’t yet fully embarked on their adulthood. But the shared details are only superficial: When Frances decides to fly to Paris for a weekend (just two days, including travel time) and ends up spending the entire time by herself, you realize just how arrested the development of this charming, gawky young woman is. And even as her options dwindle and life continues to throw her curve balls, Frances refuses to give up.

The film’s closing shot, which explains the title of the movie, is the triumphant ending to a modern fairy tale about a girl whose golden heart refuses to tarnish.

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