Director: Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Kicking and Screaming)
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach, Gerta Gerwig
Starring: Gerta Gerwig, Grace Gummer, Adam Driver
This review is for the UK release (today!). Other versions of the film may be available to own in your area. Our original TIFF review is here
As a so called film fan; I don’t think I should say this, but Frances Ha is my first Noah Baumbach movie. I’ve wanted to dig into his filmography in the past but I simply haven’t found time to investigate yet another director who’s assesses the prickly lives of privileged middle class America. You must believe me on this, as for some reason or another, I find myself very attracted to this sub genre.
I found myself thinking about how crafty Frances Ha actually is in its execution. Like the works of Whit Stillman, Sophia Coppola, Lena Dunham and of course the mumblecore movement, Frances Ha is a film that delves into the habits of people that we honestly believe have little to worry about. An awkward and self involved twenty-something struggling to sustain a bohemian lifestyle within New York City. Frances comes from a decent family, is college educated and living in what is considered one of the greatest cities. Living in a state of arrested development with her best friend Sophie, Frances is quite happy with this idle way of life until of course, Sophie finds love.
Unlike Whit Stillman’s condescending Damsel’s in Distress (also starring Gerwig), Frances draws us in because she thinks she knows it all. She pretends to those who listen and when she’s found out (quickly) she still holds enough charm to want you to just give her a hug. She balances precariously between irritatingly annoying and that best friend who never grew up but was always fun to be around. To some she may grate for the 90 minutes, but I loved Frances happy go lucky charm. It’s hard not to feel jealous of her care free spirit, although you want to shake her for not “growing up”.
This said, why should she grow up? Baumbach’s film wryly highlights the economic strain that is now beginning to press the moderately middle class as much as the poor. Frances may be scatty, but what we realize from her interactions with the people around her, even working hard in her creative outlet wouldn’t help things. Frances Ha is more of a character study than a political indictment, but knowing that Frances is coming of age defiantly in front of the sour faces of people that have very little to worry about, has a certain charm about it.
A playful homage to the French New Wave, Woody Allen’s Manhattan and the current America lo fi independents, Frances Ha’s look and feel (along with its casting) make sure it’s not as slick as Joe Swanberg’s sweet but knowing Drinking Buddies but holds a warmth and earnestly about its characters that many female lead movies sorely lack. Romance is hinted at but isn’t the be all and end all of Frances life. She’s just as gawky as the boys and while men come in and out of the frame of the story, they do not define the tale.
From a narrative standpoint, I fear those who need a more solid structure may be driven mad by Baumbach’s wandering plot. However Frances Ha is rich in other ways, such Sam Levy’s gorgeous black and white cinematography, which feels like the only way you could present a life like Miss Halladay. Meanwhile Gerwig performance improves upon her Hannah takes the Stairs persona, giving us a much more rounded character from those we’ve seen from her before.
Frances not easy to like but has a persistence in her character that bites at the ankles like a terrier. This is a film fuelled on its distinctive sense of humour, its deceptively optimistic tone and a lead performance which has energy in spades. Frances Ha may be monochrome in conception, but like the lead character, it’s full of colour.
A Frances Ha disc filled with witty asides about the writing process and involving extras about the films creation would have been the extra sweet icing on a very digestible cake. Unfortunately, what we have here is a barebones disc with only a nicely cut trailer to keep you warm during the cold January nights. Something like Frances Ha could have even benefited from even some fluff pieces to tuck into. With a film that’s being likened so much to the likes of “Girls” and the mumblecore movement, it would have been interesting to have heard a commentary which refutes or compliments such talk.
Those living across the pond will be sticking out their proverbial tongues as Criterion has happily released a Blu-Ray/DVD Duel Format Edition; complete with a mew master of the films picture and sound, a booklet featuring an essay by playwright Annie Baker and conversations about the film with the likes of Peter Bogdanovich and Sarah Polly. No doubt fans of the film may nudge and wink at their family aboard (or call on Uncle Amazon) to get their mitts on the fuller edition. That said, the transfer given on this single disc gives us a decent transfer of an extremely pretty film. A man of such poor common blood as myself; will happy take what’ve given to him and for a film that made me smile as much as Frances Ha , I can easily like it and lump it.