There's a moment in Frances Ha when a young woman tells Greta Gerwig's 27-year-old Frances that she has the face of someone older than that. Gerwig is older — she's 29. And in conversation, the star and co-writer of director Noah Baumbach's movie has the voice of someone more mature still.
Not the speaking voice — she doesn't sound worn or aged — but something else. A knowledge, an authority. The veteran of Hannah Takes the Stairs, Greenberg, Baghead, Damsels in Distress, To Rome With Love, Lola Versus, Nights and Weekends and the Russell Brand remake of Arthur cites influences who died before she was born or left this world when she was still a child. And she doesn't simply name-drop; she uses such references to amplify points that she's ready to make about her own career and process.
Frances Ha, which opens in Kansas City May 31, comes loaded with Gerwig's strong sense of cinematic heritage. The movie, in which Frances awkwardly juggles the gradual loss of best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and a more sudden stagnation in her career as a dancer, is set in a contemporary New York. But Gerwig and Baumbach (the maker of The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg, and Frances Ha's co-writer) have imbued their project with old-school sensibilities.
The film is shot in Woody Allen black-and-white. It doesn't shy from physical comedy, and it favors Georges Delerue and 1980s David Bowie on the soundtrack. Gerwig and Baumbach (the two are also a couple) have put Gerwig's own sensibilities front and center. As she tells The Pitch by phone, even the rare scenes in which Gerwig isn't on camera bear her stamp.
The Pitch: There have been a lot of movies and TV shows lately that deal with young people who haven't found their way in life, but Frances seems a lot more sympathetic than some of those characters do.
Gerwig: It's not that she's without direction. It's just that her direction is not working out. The things that she had at 21 seemed really great — they seemed positive and going in the right direction. At 27, those things seem less positive and less promising.
For example, her apprenticeship with the dance company. At 21, it's a big deal. She feels very special to do this. At 27, when she's never going to join the main company, it just seems less good. It's something everyone can relate to, whether they're in their 20s or beyond, is this idea of sometimes you have to give up the life you were planning to live the life that you have.
Frances hangs out with a lot of people who say things like, "The last couple of times I've been to Rome or Paris," while she's barely able to cover her rent, much less afford to travel.
Sometimes there's a real blitheness to people who are successful and doing well, and they don't realize it's a heartbreaker when someone is listening to it.
During your amusingly clumsy dance sequences, I was reminded of silent comics like Buster Keaton, in that while it's funny to watch you take the falls, there's an evident risk.
I'm a huge Buster Keaton fan — and Chaplin — but particularly Buster Keaton with that kind of acrobatic looseness and then precision. You need to be a dancer and an athlete in some way. I always thought about the performance being a full-body performance, that it wasn't just my face or my voice. It really existed head to toe.
The way Noah shot the movie really allowed me to do that. That was kind of where that idea of a physical comedic persona came out of with this character, and dressing her in all these specific ways: with the clogs, and the bomber and the backpack, and watching her run. There's something about that that feels almost like a movie from the '30s.