The generation of unfocused twenty-something New Yorkers that Lena Dunham pictures so passively in Tiny Furniture and her HBO series Girls is conveyed with much more quirky thought and affection in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. With the look and feel of a French New Wave comedy of the 1960s and some lovely acting in the title role, Frances Ha weaves its spell cautiously but effectively in less than ninety minutes.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 1 Hr. 26 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDkeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 11/12/2013
Frances (Greta Gerwig) is having a rough patch in both her personal and professional lives. She is a dance apprentice with a modern dance company, but her boss (Charlotte D’Amboise) isn’t encouraging about her desire to become a permanent member of the company. Her best friend and non-romantic soul mate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is moving out of their shared apartment to some posher digs with Patch (Patrick Heusinger) who eventually becomes her lover. Frances can’t afford to live alone and goes through a succession of roommates trying to get her life together, but things seem to have a way of not working out quite right to fit her mood of the moment.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig have written an oddball little movie about a daffy, lovable fifth wheel who’s very sweet and self-deprecating but doesn’t really fit in anywhere she goes. We watch as Frances makes bone-headed decisions based on foolish pride and moods of the moment rather than from using common sense amid the situations and alternatives that currently exist in her life. Thankfully, Frances isn’t one to bemoan her fate or whine about lost opportunities or a lack of success but rather she takes a wry, shoulder-shrugging attitude about her small tragedies thus making her a much more appealing heroine in her own movie. The screenplay takes Frances on sojourns to Sacramento to see her folks at Christmas (how great would it have been to have gotten to know them to see some glimmers of how Frances fits into the family circle?) and to Paris on a lark (where she basically spends her time in this magical city alone), both episodes which might have done with some expansion rather than the throwaways they are now. But director Baumbach certainly catches the ebb and flow of New York with some choppy scenes shot on the fly as Frances mills about the city and offers us a cosmopolitan tone and tempo as the title character bounces from apartment to apartment and acquaintance to acquaintance while she tries to get her life back on track. The climactic dance sequence (beautifully staged and shot) gives the character a victory that had eluded her throughout the entirety of the movie and brings the story up to this point of her life to a satisfying conclusion.
Greta Gerwig is a delight as Frances: she can bumble and crumble like a female Woody Allen in the midst of people she wants to impress, and yet her sweet-natured personality allows the audience to grow interested and protective of her as the film runs. As Frances’ close friend, Mickey Sumner isn’t quite on the same level, but the two women do share an amazing chemistry that allows them to believably be able to finish each other’s sentences. Charlotte D’Amboise as the owner of the dance company is Frances' polar opposite: a woman with her feet on the ground and her head out of the clouds. Grace Gummer plays Rachel, a fellow dancer whom Frances tries to train as the next Sophie, in brief bits that are wonderfully funny. Adam Driver, Michael Esper, and especially Michael Zegen play three important men in Frances’ life during the course of the movie, all quite effectively.
The transfer is presented in its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Shot digitally and converted to black and white (one of the set’s featurettes explains the process used to get the film’s unique look), the image is velvety in appearance with above average sharpness that comes through especially well in close-ups and medium shots in outdoor daylight. The grayscale can’t match the best black and white film-based transfers (Swamp Water, for example), but the black levels are consistent and the whites quite crisp. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers very clear dialogue in the center channel and a collection of music from French New Wave cinema and other sources that has been threaded through the fronts and rears with some dexterity. Sound effects are limited and don’t really establish the vital atmospheres of New York or Paris that a film with a much fatter budget could have offered.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Noah Baumbach/Peter Bogdanovich Interview (15:21, HD): the writer-director and his mentor discuss the movie’s themes and the techniques used to achieve the film’s unique style.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Greta Gerwig/Sarah Polley Interview (17:00, HD): the actresses discuss the character of Frances and Gerwig’s inspirations for creating her both in the writing and the acting.
Interpreting Reality (18:19, HD): director Noah Baumbach, his director of photography Sam Levy, and film colorist Pascal Dangin talk about how the film’s digital color photography was manipulated into the domain of black and white. Camera tests show before and after shots as the men discuss the techniques involved.
Theatrical Trailer: (1:56, HD)
Eighteen-Page Booklet: contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, some stills from the film, and playwright Anne Baker’s celebratory essay on the movie.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
DVD Copy: provided in all Criterion’s dual-format releases.
A funny, idiosyncratic New York character comedy, Frances Ha brings the French New Wave to the streets of Manhattan in a movie that’s decidedly different from anything else currently available from an American filmmaker. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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