Blog Directory CineVerse: Love that Frances

Love that Frances

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Frances Ha, released in 2012 and directed by Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote the script with Greta Gerwig, the film's star, tells the story of Frances, a young woman who is striving to establish herself as a dancer in New York City while grappling with the challenges of post-college life. The movie has been acclaimed in particular for Gerwig’s distinctive performance and its clever writing, which accurately portrays the struggles that young adults face in their twenties, such as finding their place in the world, navigating career uncertainties, relationship issues, and searching for their identity and purpose. The movie’s unique visual style is also highly regarded, with its retro black-and-white cinematography and memorable soundtrack creating a nostalgic and dreamy atmosphere that highlights the beauty and vitality of New York City.

To listen to a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of Frances Ha, conducted last week, click here.

Many facets of Frances Ha continue to impress. Baumbach often uses montages comprised of quick shots that, when strung together, efficiently and effectively create a rich and colorful impression of what Frances is experiencing. Recall the montage of her spending Christmas week with her relatives back in Sacramento, which gives us succinct images and fragments of her time spent there. Or the Paris vignette, which presents slightly longer but mostly wordless cuts of Frances alone in the City of Lights.

Likewise, this is a film that greatly benefits from showing small, often random, details. In many films, bit characters, quick cultural references, and trivial verbal exchanges are disposable and relatively unimportant. But in Frances Ha, all the tiny aspects arguably matter as much as the narrative threads: things like Frances doing verbal double-takes (“Wait, what?”), the student unexplainedly crying outside her dorm room, and the generous benefactor older woman who suddenly makes out with a young adult – possibly a college student.

Additionally, this movie subverts our anticipations for what we expect will happen, making it fresh and unpredictable. There is no “meet cute” scene. Frances doesn’t put all her eggs in a “magical boyfriend” basket. Frances makes bad, often immature, decisions and makes others around her uncomfortable, which risks making this character less loveable and sympathetic. Her impulsive trip to Paris is not life-changing; conversely, her visit home to mom and dad in Sacramento isn’t a soul-crushing, socially alienating experience—we see Frances happy and engaged. Also, nothing is resolved by the ending: We’re not sure if Frances will pursue an affair with Benji, enjoy the same level of friendship with Sophie, or achieve success in her new career as a choreographer.

Baumbach and company explore many thought-provoking subjects here, making Frances Ha a deeper and more enriching experience than simply a quirky character study. Foremost, this is certainly a film about self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-love. Many critics call Frances Ha a love story, but instead of being a romance about a woman and a man or a woman and a woman, this is a narrative about loving yourself.

Criterion Collection essayist Annie Baker wrote: “Frances Ha is a romance. You could even call it a romantic comedy. It’s not a boy-girl romance or a girl-girl romance but a romance between the title character and her capital-S Self: at the end of the film, after a series of obstacles, Frances finally gets to know, and fall in love with, Frances.”

The film also stresses that life is not like the movies. Continually, we are reminded of other cinematic works that the film Frances Ha riffs on – including French New Wave classics, romcoms, indie darlings, and Woody Allen movies. But time and again this film defies expectations and deviates from predictable paths. The title character often has terrible timing, as evidenced by the scene in which she listens to the voicemail of her friend who had tried to set her up in Paris, but too late. Frances does not end up with a solid love interest by the conclusion. We are not sure if she will foster a romantic relationship with Benji. She doesn’t pursue a lesbian relationship with Sophie, as some might have expected. And she doesn’t make it as a dancer; she must pivot and explore other talents, like choreography. In her essay, Baker asks: “Does growing up simply means letting go of the movie you thought your life would be?”

Quarter-life crises and contradictions are explored, too. Frances is a 27-year-old woman who experiences somewhat of an existential predicament and confronts a turning point in her life. She yearns for a romantic relationship but not at the expense of her deep friendship with Sophie. She needs steady employment to pay her bills but is willing to turn down opportunities if they aren’t aligned with her vision of being a dancer. She’s broke, yet she impulsively chooses to vacation in Paris for a weekend. She’s bubbly, charismatic, and charming yet can be insulting, selfishly opportunistic, na├»ve, and narcissistic.

Lastly, Frances Ha encourages us to live without undue assumptions or hopes. In the words of Deep Focus Review writer Brian Eggert: “(Frances) learns that the standard definitions of terms like success and failure come with expectations for life, and instead of living with expectations, Frances results to simply live.”

Similar works

  • Films of the French New Wave, including Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim, and Cleo From 5 to 7
  • Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray and A Tale of Winter
  • Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture and her HBO series Girls
  • Woody Allen’s Manhattan
  • Lady Bird
  • Reality Bites
  • Ghost World
  • Happy-Go-Lucky

Other films by Noah Baumbach

  • The Squid and the Whale
  • Margot at the Wedding
  • Greenberg
  • While We’re Young
  • Mistress America
  • A Marriage Story

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