As a proud extension of a genre perfected by Wendy Wasserstein, Nicole Holofcener and Lena Dunham, “Frances Ha” both celebrates and looks askance at a certain type of smart, self-aware young woman who is painfully conscious of her own foibles but evolved enough to forgive herself. “I’m trying to be proactive about my life,” Frances informs her boss before asking for more hours at the studio. When she’s shot down, she flinches, then bounces right back with a reflexive “That’s okay, I’m proud of myself for asking.”
Watching Frances bumble and literally stumble her way through painful life transitions is wince-inducing but never gratuitously cruel: “Frances Ha” is too warm and laugh-out-loud funny to be a cynical downer, even when its heroine acts drunk or foolish or too desperate. Gerwig herself is too shining and kinetic a presence for the audience to believe that Frances will be chastened for long — she spends a lot of time in “Frances Ha” running, leaping and pirouetting through New York streets, not in an affected Terrence Malick-y way but in a headlong, I’m-27-and-I’m-in-New-York kind of way. She’s the radiant, whirling gyre at the center of a film that, thanks to alert and generous supporting performances, feels spontaneous and finely crafted at the same time.