Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig) is a 27-year-old dancer who lives with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in Brooklyn. When Sophie decides she wants to relocate to her dream neighborhood, Tribeca, Frances is unable to afford it and is forced to find someplace else to live. From there the film follows Frances to Chinatown (where she shares an apartment with her friends Lev and Benji for a brief period), her hometown of Sacramento, California (where she sees her family for Christmas and reconnects with high school friends), Paris (for an uneventful two-day getaway that she pays for on a credit card), Poughkeepsie (to work at her alma mater Vassar as a waitress and summer RA), and finally back to Washington Heights in New York City. Along the way Frances laments her lack of money, her poor prospects as a professional dancer, and an increasingly strained relationship with Sophie. The film concludes with Frances reconciling with Sophie and enjoying a modest but satisfying existence as a fledgling choreographer, teaching dance to young children and performing clerical work for her former dance company to pay her bills, exploring a potential relationship with Benji, and living alone in her own apartment.
Frances Ha is directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Gerwig, who also stars in the film, announced it in April 2012, though Baumbach's involvement was not revealed until the film's listing in the Telluride Film Festival's lineup. Gerwig starred in Baumbach's 2010 film Greenberg, and they decided to collaborate again. They exchanged ideas, developed characters, and eventually co-wrote a script. The Los Angeles Times highlighted Gerwig's foray as part of a trend of female actors becoming writers or co-writers; other examples include Zoe Kazan for Ruby Sparks and Rashida Jones for Celeste and Jesse Forever. Gerwig said she did not anticipate starring in Frances Ha, but Baumbach thought she suited the part. He filmed Frances Ha digitally and in black-and-white, the latter to emulate in part collaborations by Woody Allen and his cinematographer Gordon Willis in films like Manhattan (1979). CBS News compared Frances Ha's style to the works of Jim Jarmusch and François Truffaut. Filming locations included New York City, New York, Sacramento, California, Paris, France, and Vassar College, which is Baumbach's alma mater. Gerwig said that Baumbach filmed multiple takes so none of the scenes were truly spontaneous.
The filmmakers included a number of pop songs, including "Every 1's a Winner" by Hot Chocolate, "Blue Sway" by Paul McCartney, "Chrome Sitar" by T.Rex (band) and "Modern Love" by David Bowie. This sequence is an homage to Leos Carax' movie Mauvais Sang, where Denis Lavant runs through the streets (as Greta Gerwig does in Frances Ha with the same soundtrack). The soundtrack also references multiple French films: it contains music by Georges Delerue, Jean Constantin and Antoine Duhamel, originally written for films of the French New Wave. The soundtrack includes a song by Felix Laband.
Frances Ha premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on September 1, 2012. The Los Angeles Times reported its reception, "Audiences seemed pleasantly surprised by the warmth from the often-mordant Baumbach." It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2012. After the screening in Toronto, IFC Films acquired North and Latin American rights to distribute the film in theaters. Frances Ha also screened at the New York Film Festival on September 30, 2012. The film was screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2013.
The film had a limited release in United States theaters on May 17, 2013, and was released on Blu-ray and DVD through the Criterion Collection on November 12, 2013.
Frances Ha has been met with critical acclaim. Based on 162 reviews collected by review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 93% "Certified Fresh" approval rating, with an average score of 7.8/10. The site's consensus is: "Audiences will need to tolerate a certain amount of narrative drift, but thanks to sensitive direction from Noah Baumbach and an endearing performance from Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha makes it easy to forgive." Metacritic calculated an average score of 82, indicating "universal acclaim," based on 35 reviews.
Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice praises Gerwig's performance, writing, "It's a relief that Frances Ha isn't as assertively frank, in the 'Look, ma, no shame!' way, as Girls. And this is partly Gerwig's vision, too. No other movie has allowed her to display her colors like this. Frances is a little dizzy and frequently maddening, but Gerwig is precise in delineating the character's loopiness: Her lines always hit just behind the beat, like a jazz drummer who pretends to flub yet knows exactly what's up."
Peter Debruge, reviewing for Variety, described Frances Ha, "This modest monochromatic lark doesn't present a story—or even a traditional sequence of scenes—so much as it offers spirited glimpses into the never-predictable life of Frances, a 27-year-old dancer." He said Frances was "a character whose unexceptional concerns and everyday foibles prove as compelling as any New York-set concept picture, delivering an affectionate, stylishly black-and-white portrait of a still-unfledged Gotham gal". Linda Holmes, writing for National Public Radio, said, "I have limited patience for the attitude that people talking about nothing is cool and subversive, or that obnoxious people are enthralling, or that people from New York are more interesting than other people." Holmes found the film agreeable: "What helped Frances grow on me as both a character and a movie was Gerwig's vexing—and yes, sometimes intentionally irritating—performance as a young woman who's so frenetically trying to fit in that she can't, who's so desperately trying to grab onto something that she slips off every time." She concluded, "The film is funny and likable, despite the trappings of self-conscious New York navel-gazing."