Frances Ha Review

Posted: November 15, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
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franceshaposter (1)Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In 2010, I saw a film from respected director Noah Baumbach called Greenberg and didn’t like it at all. I can’t really put my finger on what it was, but the film just rubbed me the wrong way. I haven’t revisited Greenberg since, but I’ve been tempted to. My taste in film has expanded quite a bit in the last three years and I think I may have misjudged that film. Anyway, this year Baumbach released another film called Frances Ha, which has gone on to receive a lot of praise from the limited audience that saw it. This was enough to gain my curiosity, and with the film on Netflix streaming I thought I’d check it out.

Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a young woman living in New York trying to make it as a dancer. She lives in an apartment with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frances and Sophie have been best friends since college, but their relationship is disrupted when Sophie opts to move into a better apartment with someone else. Frances attempts to find new living arrangements, while simultaneously struggling to maintain her relationship with Sophie all while facing financial problems.

In case my plot description doesn’t reveal it, Frances Ha is pretty light on the big events. The story is quite minimal, with a lot of the film just focusing on Frances existing. However I’m okay with this because Frances proves to be a pretty interesting character. Though she surrounds herself with snobby hipster types, she doesn’t really fit in with the rest of them. There’s nothing wrong with her per say, she just exudes an awkwardness. Greta Gerwig captures this awkwardness very well, but more importantly she effectively walks the fine line between making Frances likable without turning her into a saint. At times, Frances acts like an idiot and makes decisions that will frustrate an audience. Gerwig does not turn away from these aspects, but instead embraces them and Frances becomes all the more real and endearing because of them.

In addition to playing the title character, Gerwig co-wrote the script with director Noah Baumbach. Despite the lack of any heavy plot, the script manages to keep things interesting through a series of amusing scenarios, moderate emotional beats, and a lot of fun dialogue. In general, the film benefits from a strong sense of humour. This isn’t a laugh riot by any stretch, but there are quite a few chuckles and I found myself charmed for the most part. Director Noah Baumbach adds some nice touches too. Stylistically, he seems to be riffing off of Woody Allen (particular Manhattan). This is most obvious through the film’s visuals, the black and white photography, and a lot of the film’s comedic beats. Baumbach also gives the film a pretty cool soundtrack, mixing some classic rock, more obscure music and some French New Wave film scores for good measure. I wouldn’t say Baumbach is doing anything too exciting, but the things he adds are welcome additions which make the film better.

What ends up being Frances Ha’s Achilles heel is a lack of weight. Though the film is enjoyable enough, it isn’t really dealing with anything profound or meaningful. The problems which Frances face are not too significant and the end solution seems a bit unearned. Additionally, the arc which Frances goes through is pretty minor compared to what you’d expect from a character study. Granted, the film knows this and wisely does not try to overblow Frances’ struggles into something more important than they really are.

I disagree with the critics championing Frances Ha as one of the year’s best films, but that isn’t to say I don’t like it. In fact, I’m actually surprised by how much I enjoy this film. The hipster sensibilities don’t endear themselves to me and I also feel the film lacks depth, but I also found myself very entertained overall thanks to a combination of clever directorial choices, a witty script, and a strong central performance from Greta Gerwig. This is light entertainment and while I don’t know how well I’ll remember it in a few months’ time, I’m certainly glad I saw it.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. Believe it or not, this was actually a Noam Baumach movie that made me happy to live the life I have now, and what sets out for me in the future. Hopefully I can stay in one area for longer than Frances does, but hey, if not, then so be it!

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