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Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Movie Rewind: FRANCES HA (2013)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Charlotte d'Amboise

I think it is safe to say that I love contemporary movies shot in black and white. With Much Ado About Nothing, Nebraska, and now Frances Ha, I want more and more films shot this way. Frances (Gerwig) and her best friend/roommate Sophie (Sumner) seem to do everything together: dance around the park, smoke out the window, play backgammon, etc… When her boyfriend Dan (Esper) suggests she live with him, she can’t seem to depart her Sophie. “Tell me the story of us”, Frances says to Sophie as they elaborately plot out their future in a whimsical dreamlike world. Everything seems to be great between them until Sophie drops the bomb that she wants to move out of their apartment and move to Tribecca where she has always wanted to live. Frances cannot afford it, so she feels stuck and betrayed.

Frances moves in with her new friend Lev (Driver) and his roommate Benji (Zegen) even though she can barely afford that rent. She is the definition of the young hipster artist who cannot seem to get their act together and has trouble coping with the fact the people around her are moving on and living their own lives. Everything always seems to be up in the air for her.

There is something odd and awkward about Frances, but you can’t take your eyes off of her. You are waiting for some sort of train wreck to happen. She is brought to life by the mesmerizing Greta Gerwig who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach. There is a vulnerability and care free openness that she brings to Frances. At times you want to be friends with her and have these whimsical dances with her. Other times you just wish she would get her act together because you want the most out of her. I think any artist could relate to her at times. As an apprentice in a dance company and teacher of children’s classes, she believes she is a shoo-in to make it as a full time company member. I know I have been in that position before where you think you have taken this great opportunity that will be the “in” you are looking for only to find out you are in a replaceable, bottom of the totem pole position.

The majority of the story takes place in New York, but there are a few scenes in Paris. These two days in Frances' life brought me right back to the time I was there on my honeymoon. We actually saw huge posters for the movie while we were there. These two cities are beautifully captured by cinematographer Sam Levy who treats them as characters themselves. There is a beauty, care, and attention that is brought to the story when the setting is pulled into focus like it is here. The story would not be as effective if it took place anywhere else. He shot the film digitally which was a first for director Noah Baumbach The black and white look brings out the classic romantic feel to New York and Paris which makes you slightly forget how dingy and dirty they can be. It also brings out a timeless feeling where it feels like the film could be set in any decade. The film has the tone and feel of the old Woody Allen movies who always loved to highlight the New York ambiance.

You can find Frances Ha available through Netflix Instant Streaming as well as on Criterion Collection in a dual blu-ray/DVD combo. Any film buff should already know the care and love the Criterion Collection has toward the movies they release. Frances Ha comes with a new high-definition digital master picture, approved by co-writer and director Noah Baumbach, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The special features include conversations between Baumbach and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, Baumbach and Levy, and another one with Gerwig and filmmaker Sarah Polley. As someone involved in the arts my whole life, I have known many people that are like Frances or have had their Frances moments. Gerwig has given one of the best female performances of the year, and Frances is bound to stick with you awhile after your first viewing. Do not be surprised if you find yourself popping it in and watching it the next day. Guilty as charged.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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