Daringly plotless and disconnected (“just like my life!” squeals the target audience), Noah Baumbach’s latest, a breeze, feels a lot less self-absorbed than usual, mainly for not having a neurotic at its core. Greta Gerwig, as the title’s 27-year-old Brooklynite—a modern dancer whose overall flexibility is tested when her best friend (Mickey Sumner) moves out—is animated by childlike impulses. She flounces around the streets and seems to handle her stress fairly well; the actor’s quirk doesn’t strangle you with cuteness because Gerwig (also a cowriter) never allows her character to become an obnoxious emblem for anything. Frances is a good listener, even when people disappoint her.
Still, the filmmaking isn’t wholly comfortable with itself. Baumbach is taking a leap here into something freer, but his shooting style—in undistinguished b&w—feels like part of an old affectation he couldn’t drop (yes, we all know you dig Manhattan). His empathy for Gerwig is real, not cynical, and she’s no fantasy dream girl. Yet some of the director’s usual acuity has been sacrificed for looseness and, for all of Gerwig’s energy, there’s not much forward momentum here, apart from a series of transitional apartments. (Their addresses are noted onscreen.) The best sequence of the movie is Baumbach’s cleverest to date: an unsatisfying solo excursion in Paris, a place of inflexible shopkeepers and zero romance, set to the forcibly funky “Every 1’s a Winner.” In these moments, we love Gerwig’s loser terribly.
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