In the new movie “Frances Ha,” Greta Gerwig plays the title character, a 20-something New Yorker who seems to be auditioning for adulthood and, for the most part, coming up short.

She has plenty of company. Her friends drink until they puke, date the wrong guys, fall in and out of love, lose jobs, lie to each other and generally act more like goofy adolescents than grown-ups.

For all that, Frances is an appealing character, a little wacky and sweet. She apprentices at a modern dance company, none too well, and is let go. Her roommate and BFF, Sophie (played by Mickey Sumner, the rock star Sting’s daughter), moves to a better apartment and acquires a steady boyfriend, and suddenly Frances is without a job or a friend.

Faced with this crisis, Frances starts to spin out of control, bouncing from place to place – Paris, her parents’ home, her former college campus – like a pinball. “Undateable” a young man caustically labels her.  “You seem a lot older,” an acquaintance tells Frances, comparing her to Sophie, “but less like a grown-up.”

The movie is not without its humor and poignancy, but on the whole seems like a spinoff of the wildly successful TV series “Girls” about the same cohort dealing with the same issues. One of the actors, Adam Driver, plays essentially the same character in both shows. Ms. Gerwig co-wrote the movie with director Noah Baumbach and it has the same off-the-cuff, improvised feel as “Girls” and many other movies about young people stumbling through life.

At one point a young man announces triumphantly that Walden Pond was five minutes from Thoreau’s mother’s house, as if to suggest that permanent adolescence is cool. But it is not, nor is it fun to wallow in. The movie was shot in black and white, which Mr. Baumbach says gives it “instant nostalgia.” Instant neuralgia is more like it. The gray color scale just adds to the drab and often dispiriting sense that no one is making much progress.

The soundtrack seems meant to do some of the movie’s conceptual heavy lifting. David Bowie’s “Modern Love” sounds great and the lyrics fit right in: “God and man, no confessions; God and man, no religion; God and man don’t believe in modern love.”

But modern love and life are a lot more complex than the movie lets on.

In the end Frances finds a decent job and gets her own apartment, which is like getting a foot in the door of maturity. But the sudden optimism seems tacked on and unconvincing. So does the last scene, which provides the “Ha” of the title. It’s amusing but not very funny.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently three consecutive Northern...