Frances Ha, the second film that teamed up Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, marked the 10th anniversary of its theatrical release in May.
I first watched the film through Netflix in December 2013. Here I am, 10 years and two days later, watching the Criterion Collection Blu-ray. I could watch it on Netflix but the Blu-ray supplements offer more insight into the 86-minute dramedy.
After filming Greenberg in LA, Baumbach strips things down while relocating the setting to New York. It’s such a smaller film in terms of scale. One can sense a level of inspiration from earlier films from the French New Wave and Woody Allen in how intimate it feels. Baumbach also turns to the French New Wave for inspiring the score. That being said, this film is as much Baumbach as it is Gerwig. Surprisingly, they wrote it remotely because they were in different places. There is no improvisation except for the airport scene with Greta’s parents playing her character’s parents.
Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig) is living as a dancer in New York in her late 20s. Her life is turned upside down when her roommate, Sophie Levee (Mickey Sumner), decides to move from Brooklyn to Tribeca. It puts a strain on their relationship. Frances works as an apprentice at a dance company until getting fired while temporarily staying with Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen). At which point, she cannot even afford to pay rent. Frances goes back home to Sacramento for the holidays, reuniting with family and friends.
After coming back from the holidays, Frances stays with another dancer, Rachel (Grace Gummer). This is where she learns that Sophie is living a very different life. While Sophie movies to Tokyo, Frances impulsively decides to spend money on a trip to Paris for a few days. The two of them talk on the phone for a bit during this time. After that, it’s back to Vassar to work as a summer RA and waitress. Unfortunately, the rules prevent Frances from enrolling in any courses, not that she would have much time with her work schedule. Anyway, things come to a head at the alumni auction, when Frances and Sophie reunite with each other. The two eventually reconcile after Frances moves back into the city and gets a job as a choreographer and bookkeeper.
The film really captures what it feels to be at this point in life. Frances Ha might leave us with a feeling of hope but there are many times that it does not feel that way. There are so many times where she fails, only to bounce back up. Gerwig is just perfect in the role. It’s been interesting to look at Gerwig grow as an actor through watching her in Baumbach’s films.
There’s a certain look to this film that we really don’t get to see anymore. Sam Levy’s cinematography is stunning in black and white. Surprisingly, they are also shooting digitally, which is both practical and cost-effective. But anyway, it took some testing but they eventually figured it out. Their camera choices led to being able to move around quickly with the budget constraints. Baumbach told Peter Bogdanovich that the only time he worked on the film in color was looking through the lens.
On the casting front, the casting of Adam Driver as Lev Shapiro only helped push the idea that the actor was Jewish. It wasn’t until BlacKkKlansman came out in which we realized he wasn’t Jewish. But yeah, casting practices such as this do not help when it comes to authentic representation screen.
Noah Baumbach solidly directs Frances Ha while Greta Gerwig delivers a strong performance in her portrayal of struggling dancer.
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
SCREENWRITERS: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
CAST: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner