Noah Baumbach's bittersweet comedy Frances Ha is a surprising coming-of-age story about two best friends grappling with adult life in New York City. Comparisons to Lena Dunham's zeitgeisty Girls are inevitable and unfortunate. Because the film and its two leads, Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner, have plenty new to say about the complexity of female relationships.
Shot in inky black and white and bristling with performances that feel captured on the fly, Baumbach's best film since 2005's The Squid and the Whale is both a nod and a throwback to the French New Wave. The movie kicks off with a breathless montage of aspiring dancer Frances (Gerwig, who co-wrote the script with Baumbach) and her roommate, Sophie (Sumner), picnicking in the park and smoking on their fire escape. We immediately understand the tight-knit bond between the two women. ''We're like a lesbian couple that doesn't have sex anymore,'' Frances half-jokes. But their connection is tested when Sophie moves in with a new roommate and Frances takes the news harder than her latest break-up. It doesn't help that her flagging career and her choice in men are equally disastrous.
Gerwig, who previously starred in Baumbach's Greenberg, is charmingly awkward. And Sumner (Sting's daughter) is an ace with deadpan one-liners. In the film's best scene, Frances runs through Manhattan to David Bowie's ''Modern Love.'' In that one moment, you can tell that Frances won't be defeated. She's a kid at heart, and you're rooting for her never to grow up. B+