Jaime on Criterion: Frances Ha Review



Frances Ha (2012)

Cast: Greta GerwigMickey SumnerAdam Driver
Director: Noah Baumbach
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy | Drama
Official Website: Here

Editor’s Notes: The following review marks the start of Jaime’s bi-weekly Criterion review series where he will explore the depths of the Criterion Collection.

New York, present time(ish) is my next stop for my journey through the Criterion catalog. I decided I wanted something immensely upbeat this time, and just like the run time of my newest title Frances Ha (85 minutes), my visit was brief, but rewarding. The newest film from writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenburg) tells the story of Frances, an aspiring dancer who is simply trying to make it in New York City. She has a best friend that she lives with and suddenly dumps her for a location in Tribeca, so now she needs to find a new place to stay. The dance company tells her that they can’t pay her and she might not even be needed anymore. Basically the entire film is a love letter to someone who’s ever tried to make it in the Big Apple. Sans the dreams, but maybe missing the spunk that Frances has.

The most immediate aspect about Frances Ha is how much it wants to be nostalgic, maybe even timeless. 


The most immediate aspect about Frances Ha is how much it wants to be nostalgic, maybe even timeless. Shooting in black & white in 2012 and in HD might come across as nothing more than a clever wink to the audience at best, but Baumbach said previously that he wanted that said nostalgic look, so to bring that out with a simple editing filter job wasn’t going to cut it. Immediate praise goes to indie cinematographer Sam Levy (Wendy and Lucy). He and Baumbach work together so well to bring about the dirt and grime and the timeless factor, and it also acts as sort of a neutral agent in Frances’ world. The visual look and a feel aren’t the same as a story, unless it can fuse with the script as such. While I’m sure this would have been just fine being released in color, having the black & white aspect be a comforter to the screenplay was a really good idea.

And speaking of the story, it was an immediate interest to me that Baumbach had Gerwig co-write the screenplay. It’s a natural decision since she’s playing the title character, and Gerwig has certainly proved her writing chops (Nights and Weekends), but still, the idea of them combining to give her what could potentially be her juiciest role yet had me on a certain edge (in a good sense). And honestly, I was not disappointed. The messes the Frances puts herself through, and the messes that waltz themselves into her life, are achingly close to what someone normal can go through. In fact, if this were made by lesser filmmakers, this could have easily been an account of someone trying to make it in New York. I personally didn’t need to watch that (having already been through that myself), and the moviegoer should be treated to something more than something normal with this kind of ride. And this, my friends, is where Frances Ha truly stands out.

The messes the Frances puts herself through, and the messes that waltz themselves into her life, are achingly close to what someone normal can go through.

My hopes of Gerwig shining through were met entirely, and beyond. She gives a performance that goes above and beyond in every since, and with her talents in front and behind the camera, the character mold she and Baumbach create provides the jolt to make this metaphorical life road trip worthy of your attention as it did mine. Frances starts off as this level goofball, but as life keeps dumping on her, she tries to adapt. A lot of those times, those moves to survive are not the smartest, and she even knows that immediately after it happened. There’s a key scene where she’s at a dinner party with a bunch of people she barely knows, and in the aftermath of the party, where everyone’s in the living room relaxing, she lets down her barrier more than usual, and lets it flow. It’s a fantastic scene, and while it may not be the turning point, it stuck with me. It’s the moment that made me realize that Frances isn’t just the average someone trying to make it. It stuck with me, and from that point forward everything she goes through is harder to swallow than before (and that’s saying something, considering a sequence where she visits her family is downright brilliant).


The movie’s pure goal is the trials and tribulations of Frances (she’s literally in every scene of the film), and while that’s all it wants to do, it does it beautifully. Frances Ha is a suitable Criterion pic.

  • 8.1

About Author

My head's been consumed the art of movies & its creation ever since I was old enough to know what the word 'consumed' meant. The only way to reduce the pressure buildup is to write, edit, and direct. Chocolate milk also helps.

  • Jacqueline Valencia

    So glad you liked Frances Ha.