Monday, June 24, 2013

Frances Ha




Directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is the story of a 27-year old dancer who is trying to figure out the next stage of her life as her best friend decides to move out. The film is about young people trying to find out the next phase of their life as well as pondering whether to continue following their dreams or become adults. Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Josh Hamilton, Grace Gummer, and Juliet Rylance. Frances Ha is a delightful yet charming comedy-drama from Noah Baumbach.

The film revolves the life of a 27-year old dancer named Frances (Greta Gerwig) whose world is starting to crash down after breaking up with her boyfriend while her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is moving in with her boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger). Frances would spend her time living with other people for a few moments until she faces setbacks in her life where she’s unable to be part of the Christmas show for the dance company. With Sophie’s life changing, Frances becomes lost in her world as she would make some terrible decisions while facing the fact that she might have to grow up and give up her dreams as a dancer. It’s all part of the world that plays into a young woman dealing with the expectations of being an adult yet wanting to keep her dreams alive.

The screenplay that Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig create explores the difficulties of growing up into adulthood where a woman has a passion for dancing yet she has a hard time with the changes around her. Notably as she has a very close friendship with her longtime roommate Sophie as the two have the same kind of quirky personality. Yet, Sophie’s life is changing as she is in a steady relationship with a man named Patch where his job forces them to make decisions that leaves Frances out of the loop. Even as she has to hear it from other people as it makes her more insecure where she would make decisions in her life that she later realizes how dumb it is. Frances would also make bad decisions that could’ve gone well as she also showcases the sense of fear in adulthood where one might have to give up their dreams and be like everyone else.

Frances is a very unique yet flawed character that lives under the beat of her own drum. She loves to dance and have fun yet she has to deal with things like paying the rent and making sure she can become a lead dancer or be part of the company. Yet, she faces challenges that would be overwhelming for anyone in their late 20s as they deal with uncertainty about themselves in life. At the same time, she tries to stray away from the world of love though there’s men in her life that mean well but don’t offer the stability that she needs. Eventually, Frances has to realize what she has to do to be an adult where there are compromises that have to be made but also find a way to be the vivacious woman that she loves being.

Baumbach’s direction is very low-key as it plays to a visual style that recalls some of the works of Woody Allen from the late 70s and early 80s as it’s short largely in New York City as well as a few places in upstate New York, Sacramento, and Paris. The use of grainy black-and-white footage does give the film a timeless feel where Baumbach creates something is told in a modern sensibility in a present time but it also could’ve been placed in another world. Baumbach’s camera also has these very entrancing compositions in not just the way he uses close-ups and wide shots but also the sense of looseness in the direction that includes some tracking shots in some of the film’s exterior scenes.

The film also features a lot of dance where it wants to showcase a woman’s desire to create something that is meaningful as Baumbach captures Frances’ energy through dance. Even as it features some moments in the ballet to showcase her love but also the melancholia that she’s feeling where Baumbach knows where to put her in the frame to display those emotions without the need to embellish things. Particularly where Baumbach wisely avoids melodrama to just have a bit of realism in the situations that Frances deals with though there is some drama that plays to Frances’ friendship with Sophie and how intense it can be. Overall, Baumbach creates a compelling yet exhilarating film about growing into the world of adulthood.

Cinematographer Sam Levy does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography where it does have some elements of grain in its look for some of its interior settings and scenes at night while also having that sense of style in the lighting without the need to overdo things. Editor Jennifer Lane does excellent work with the editing to create some rhythmic cutting for some of the dancing as well as a few stylish cuts to showcase Frances‘ difficulty with adjusting to adulthood. Production designer Sam Lisenco and set decorator Hannah Rothfield do wonderful work with the set pieces from the different apartments that Frances live in to the dance studio that she works at.

Sound editor Paul Hsu does terrific work with the sound where it is very natural in many of its location settings along with a few scenes in the dance performances. Music supervisor George Drakoulias creates a very fun soundtrack that features score music from films of the French New Wave including score cuts by Georges Delerue plus original music from Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips as well as songs by T. Rex, Hot Chocolate, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is brilliant as it features appearances from Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips as a couple at a dinner party, Juliet Rylance and Josh Hamilton as guests at the dinner party, Grace Gummer as Frances’ dancer friend Rachel, Michael Esper as Frances’ ex-boyfriend Dan, and Charlotte d’Amboise as Frances’ boss Colleen. Other notable small roles include Patrick Heusinger as Sophie’s boyfriend Patch whom Frances doesn’t really like, Michael Zegen as the writer friend Benji, and Adam Driver as Benji’s artist roommate Lev. Mickey Sumner is excellent as Frances’ best friend Sophie who deals with the changes of her life as it would affect her and Frances in a big way. Finally, there’s Greta Gerwig in an incredible performance as Frances as a woman dealing with the difficulties of real life as she is trying to hold on to her dream as a dancer where Gerwig brings a lot of energy and charisma to her role as Frances.


***Additional DVD/Blu-Ray Material Written on 1/23/15-1/24/15***

The 2013 dual-disc Region 1 DVD/Region A Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection presents in a new high-definition digital master that is approved by its director Noah Baumbach with an uncompressed 5.1 DTS-HD Surround Sound Master Audio for the Blu-Ray. Presented in its 1:85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, the film retains the rich look that was presented in its theatrical release. The special features of the DVD/Blu-Ray set features three interviews about the film.

The first is a fifteen-minute conversation with the film’s co-writer/director Noah Baumbach and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich about the film where Baumbach revealed its genesis as it relate to him wanting to return to New York City and make a film about young people in the city. Through his email conversations with Greta Gerwig, a script came in where much of the dialogue is written with the exception of Frances returning home for Christmas. Baumbach also talked about his approach to the music and why the film was shot in black-and-white and on digital as Baumbach revealed that it was for financial reasons but also to see if he could make a film on digital and in black-and-white though digital would often present the film in color. When Baumbach see that it could be done, it gave him everything he needed as he wanted the film to have a timeless look but also be a homage to the films of the French New Wave which were one of the inspirations for the film.

The second is a seventeen-minute conversation with actress/co-writer Greta Gerwig and actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley about the film has Polley asking Gerwig questions about the character of Frances as well as Gerwig’s collaboration with Baumbach. Gerwig reveals a lot about Frances development as well as her own interpretation to the character. Gerwig also reveals what she and Baumbach wanted to do with the script as it relates to Frances’ journey and what she would accomplish at the end of the film.

The third and final interview is an eighteen-minute conversation between Baumbach, cinematographer Sam Levy, and color master Pascal Dangin about the film’s look as it is a must-see for anyone that wants to know how these three men shot the film in digital and how it created the film’s black-and-white look. Baumbach, Levy, and Dangin talk about the late cinematographer Harris Savides who was the key figure into getting Baumbach to think about shooting the film digitally as he would aid them into creating the black-and-white process through some tests. The three men also reveal how difficult it was where it was crucial that tests were made as Dangin would be the one to find the look of the film through post-production mastering process as he revealed how he did it as it’s one of the finest pieces about the advantages and disadvantages of digital filmmaking. The special features also include the film’s theatrical trailer for its 2013 theatrical release.

The DVD/Blu-Ray set also features an essay from playwright Annie Baker about the film entitled The Green Girl. Baker talks about the character of Frances and the bad decisions she made where it would play into the tribulations she would face while trying to maintain some element of optimism. Baker says the film is a romantic film but between Frances and herself as she tries to find herself through her many misadventures and living situations. It’s a film that Baker says is about a woman finding herself and how she tries to find herself through other people only to come to terms that it’s about her. It’s a very witty and insightful essay into a film that truly lives up to the word magical.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

Frances Ha is an outstanding film from Noah Baumbach that features a sensational performance from Greta Gerwig. The film is definitely one of Baumbach’s most enjoyable and engaging works of his career as well as creating a very realistic yet humorous take on the world of adulthood. With a fantastic script and a fun soundtrack, the film is definitely something that showcases a woman trying to hang on to her dreams in the world of adulthood. In the end, Frances Ha is a tremendous achievement from Noah Baumbach.

Noah Baumbach Films: Kicking and Screaming - Highball - Mr. Jealousy - The Squid & the Whale - Margot at the Wedding - Greenberg - While We’re Young - Mistress America - DePalma - The Auteurs #41: Noah Baumbach

© thevoid99 2013

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