In the interest of full disclosure, I have the following to say about Frances Ha:
- It sat in my queue for over a year
- I watched it because it had Adam Driver
- I found the first ten minutes so insufferable I nearly switched it off
- I am so, so glad I didn’t
The movie presents Frances (Gerta Gerwig, who also co-wrote it) as just another overly precious Brooklynite of the genus Big Dreams, Starry Eyes, No Real Problems, Plenty of Cool Friends. Then, the movie gently and meticulously deconstructs both its own presentation and your expectations.
When we meet Frances, she’s living with her best friend Sophie and they are two peas in a twee little pod. I thought they were gay at first but that’s because I am not a touchy person with friends. Frances and Sophie lie in each other’s beds, playfight in the park, hold hands, and are always together. But their beautiful union is ending – Sophie wants to fulfill a lifelong dream and move to Tribeca, and with her good job, she can afford it. Frances, as a barely employed dancer of uncertain ability, can not.
“Heavens, trouble in hipster paradise,” I thought, rolling my eyes.
Wrenched from her comfort zone and reeling from a breakup, Frances goes on a rebound date with Lev (Driver, strangely believeable as a hipster alpha), who she likes but not enough to sleep with. She stays over, but quickly realizes that he’s not into monogamy. Soon she’s living with Lev and his room mate Benji, two trust-fun kids with money to burn. During dinner with one of Lev’s most recent pieces, Said Piece asks Frances how old she is, and remarks that she looks old. This sends Frances into a tailspin of self-doubt.
Periodically, Sophie passes through Frances’s life and the two catch up; Sophie’s life seems nothing but charmed at first, with a great job, great fiancee, and great opportunity to move overseas.
Frances goes on her own little journey; she takes a job at her alma mater as a waitress/Resident Assistant in the dorms. While serving during a fancy party for wealthy alumni, she’s surprised to find Sophie in attendance – and very, very drunk. It turns out that Sophie is actually angry and miserable with her lot in life. She becomes verbally abusive toward her fiancee and Frances has to take care of her, and the two spend the night in Frances’s little room as they once did.
This was a shrewd and intelligent choice on the part of the filmmakers. Frances witnessing Sophie’s deterioration gives her perspective on her own life, and encourages her to reevaluate her path and take a risk. She takes a trip to Paris she can’t actually afford, which she pays for with her first credit card; she visits her solidly middle-class family in California; she has dinner with a very posh family who slowly come to realize she’s not the poised, up-and-coming young woman they took her for.
I really enjoyed Frances Ha, for a lot of reasons. It was a sweet little movie about an awkward young woman finding her way, and she doesn’t do it through drugs or sex with strangers in bathrooms or being a shitty person. She’s creative, intelligent, and possibly a little behind her peer group in some aspects, but she has a rich inner life and is attempting to be the best kind of person she can be. It showed the fun, joyous side of a bohemian lifestyle without wallowing in harsh realities or punishing the main character; too many films of this oeuvre purport to show the lives of dreamers while subtly criticizing the protagonist, who winds up dead in a club bathroom or doing the Walk of Shame into an abortion clinic. It was refreshing to see such a light story portrayed in an arthouse fashion.
Normally, I have little patience for young attractive people without jobs having conversations about life and dreams, but I really enjoyed this film. Part of youth is having a myopic view of the world, and the process of expanding said view can be painful, or worse, boring. Frances Ha makes this process interesting, mostly due to the daft charm of Gerwig. The ending, in which she dances in the park alone, could have been dreadful but instead felt wonderfully earned. The journey wasn’t a particularly fraught one, but not all journeys have to be.
Some people can only learn who they really are far, far from their comfort zone, when they’re backpacking through Bali or Iceland; others can learn just as much during a short trip to the grocery store.