Review by Gordon Justesen
Gerwig, Mickey Sumner
Director: Noah Baumbach
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 86 Minutes
Release Date: November 12, 2013
“I’m too tall to marry.”
Writer/director Noah Baumbach has certainly found a niche for telling intimate character stories involving people with somewhat complicated issues. His film The Squid and the Whale remains one of the most painfully funny films depicting a family falling apart at the seams, something that was depicted even more uncomfortably in his follow up, Margot At the Wedding. His previous film, Greenberg, was a riveting and challenging portrait of a man coming to terms with reality in contemporary Los Angeles.
Baumbach’s newest offering, Frances Ha, could very much be considered a somewhat lighter version of Greenberg, only this time told from a female perspective. But Baumbach has brought a unique approach to this film in that he shot in Black and White. The purpose was to evoke the mood and feel of French New Wave, which is pulled off most successfully.
The central focus of this intimate character study is Frances (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach), a quirky free spirit woman who is, among other things, trying to find herself. A third string dancer for a dance company in New York City, meaning she is the understudy to the understudy, Frances hasn’t quite reached the level of independence we all hope to obtain by her age. Nevertheless, she never seems to let the negatives get her down.
Meanwhile, her roommate and dearest best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), has a life going in the opposite direction. She has a successful publishing job and is in a steady relationship. Frances, who may as well be in love with Sophie, is at this point clinging to someone who has already chosen to move on in life.
Baumbach uses New York City in the same manner you’d find in a Woody Allen film, which is definitely a positive note. The film was reportedly shot on the fly and very inexpensively, meaning the city and its inhabitants were made participants in the film against their will. In this regard, the choice to shoot in Black and White was most wise one, as it adds even more to this intimate portrait.
This is Baumbach’s second collaboration with Greta Gerwig, as she had a memorable supporting role in Greenberg. And judging by the work they’ve turned out here, I think this is a cinematic relationship I’d like to see more of. Gerwig, who’s made quite a mark in independent cinema, has a radiant quality that shines in every single scene she’s in, thus making Frances and endearing character in spite of her occasional screw ups.
Noah Baumbach is a filmmaker whose work I always look forward to, and while I wouldn’t say it’s quite on par with that of Greenberg or The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha is nonetheless an original and often funny character study featuring one of the more memorable female characters in quite some time.
Criterion and Black & White films go together in the most beautiful way possible. This film was also shot digitally, which makes for a visually splendid Blu-ray presentation from the best company in the market. There is so much detail to absorb in just about every single shot in this film, as the 1080p brings contemporary New York to vivid life in a most intimate way. As far as Black and White presentations go, this will certainly be a top draw for the year’s best looking release!
Though a dialogue driven film, the DTS HD mix gets a nice boost thanks in large part to a diverse list of music. Ranging from the works of composer Georges Delerue to pop songs by that of Hot Chocolate and David Bowie, the lossless audio mix give the music a terrifically clear and effective playback. Dialogue delivery is fantastic from beginning to end as well!
This Criterion release, which actually includes BOTH the Blu-ray and the DVD editions, contains the same extras on both copies. Included are two informative interview segments: the first with Noah Baumbach and director Peter Bogdanovich and the second with Greta Gerwig and actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley. Both offer terrific details in the way of both the filmmaking and performance process. Also featured is a conversation with Baumbach, cinematographer Sam Levy and color master Pascal Dangin about the distinct look of the film. Rounding out the extras is the film’s Trailer, and a neat insert booklet featuring an essay by playwright Annie Baker.
Frances Ha is another intriguing and edgy character piece from director Noah Baumbach. He and actress/co-writer Greta Gerwig are a one of kind team and I really hope to seem them collaborate on future projects! And the Blu-ray presentation from Criterion is by far another splendid home run!