Director: Noah Baumbach; Screenwriters: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig; Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver Running time: 86 mins
Frances Ha, an early standout from the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival, deserves to be discussed and dissected. For Greta Gerwig's central character provides such a compelling portrayal of personality disorder encased within a movie whose tone seamlessly shifts between magical and melancholy. Until a misguided last act that relies too much on melodrama and contrivance, it's sublime and packed with amusing and sexually candid dialogue.
Shot in glorious black and white by The Squid and the Whale auteur Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha revolves around the fortunes of Gerwig's deluded dancer Frances as she clumsily tries to navigate that awkward transitional phase in the mid-'20s. It's a time when the harsh realities of adulthood kick in as the bank balance dwindles, the best friend moves on to new pastures and the youthful dreams of yesteryear suddenly appear unattainable.
The often whimsical tone evokes 1960s French New Wave cinema, particularly with Frances spontaneously taking a tinkle on a train track - up there in the cinematic urination stakes with Kirsten Dunst's golf course leak in Melancholia. There's also a memorable extended tracking shot of Frances dancing and running down the street while listening to David Bowie's 'Modern Love' that makes us share the epiphany she's experiencing.
But don't be fooled by Frances with all her feigned insecurity and branding of herself as "undateable" and predicting she'll be a lonely spinster. She's a psychopath. Not the type of knife-wielding maniac that cinema loves, but a mild one whose goal is control and winning in life. The film never makes this explicit or seeks to judge her, but those who have read Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test or are familiar with psychologist Robert Hare's universally used Psychopathy Checklist should be able to see beyond Frances's superficial charm and spot the traits.
She pathologically lies about her career status, displays no empathy towards her dumped boyfriend or loved-up best friend, has a grandiose sense of self-worth and lack of realistic long-term goals about her dancing, manipulates a new acquaintance into giving her his flat in Paris, poor behaviour controls and impulsiveness (not just with her bladder), has a parasitic lifestyle with dependence on others, is prone to boredom and in need of stimulation – and fails to accept responsibility for her actions causing her best friend to shun her.
Greta Gerwig's Oscar-worthy portrayal brings out the disturbed workings of her mind with strong yet subtle facial expressions that give fleeting glimpses of the anger beneath the mask and will cause alarm bells to ring with those who have ever been close to a psychopath. All this is cleverly captured by Baumbach's lens, which remains mostly trained on Frances's face.
There will be many different interpretations of Frances Ha of course, with some undoubtedly dwelling on its lighter side and labelling the main character as sympathetic. That highlights why it's such a captivating must-see, as one's own life experiences are so pivotal to the construction of meaning. Plus, there are some good gags about bum sex and the best use of the phrase "ahoy sexy" ever.