DVD Review: ‘Frances Ha’


Dancing its way into a multitude of top ten lists at the end of last year came Noah Baumbach’s monochrome marvel Frances Ha (2012), which arrives this week on DVD and Blu-ray. Baumbach had previously demonstrated his drollness, but on this occasion he’s infused it with unbridled charm in the form of star and co-writer Greta Gerwig. Together, they’ve crafted a wry, delightful Nouvelle Vague-inflected portrait of a young woman clinging to the vestiges of her past dreams despite advancing years and overdue rent. Furnished with hipster quirk, Frances won’t be for everyone, but certainly warrants the praise.

Frances (a winning turn from Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) are “the same person with different hair”. More accurately, they’re best friends living suitably bohemian New York lives with their thirties hovering slowly into view. When Sophie breaks the news that she’s moving out of their apartment to live with other people in Tribeca it sets in motion a series of miniature catastrophes that highlight Frances’ arrested development. Our heroine hops from friend’s futon to colleague’s couch and crosses her fingers for a big break at the dance company at which she seems a perennial apprentice. If she were a real person, Frances would perhaps drive you to distraction and you’d be compelled to shake her out of her reverie.

Some audiences will undoubtedly feel this way, but most will fortunately find her more endearing thanks to Gerwig’s performance. Many people fell in love with Frances at the cinema and many will do so all over again at home. She imbues her amateur hoofer with a perfect blend of grace and awkwardness, of intelligence and naiveté, that has seen her tipped for awards recognition. There’s little that’s naive on show cinematically, though, as Baumbach and his muse create an enduring picture of a not only of a floundering Generation Y twentysomething, but also of a platonic love affair. A sense of melancholy permeates throughout as Frances struggles to adjust to a life without her beloved Sophie, compounded by the film’s beautiful look.

Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) is unsurprisingly evoked and there are nods to Gallic cinema via Rohmer, Rivette and a wonderful homage to Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang (1986). This may all sound rather self-aware, but in fact it serves better to describe the milieu in which the characters exist (Sophie actually makes a similar observation about an apartment in which Frances at one stage resides). The film manages to deftly tread the slender line that pokes fun at characters whilst remaining pleasingly warm towards them. Frances Ha may be more gently humorous than raucously funny, but it’s a joy to watch; whether you managed to catch it at the cinema or not, this is one 2013 release well worth catching up with.

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Ben Nicholson