FRANCES HA Review

Frances Ha is all about growing up and in every sense of that phrase I feel like I can relate to what is taking place in this film. Given, I don’t live in New York and am not currently struggling to pay rent I can still understand coming to the point where the present is being forced to become more like the past and the aspirations you’ve had since childhood are approaching do or die time. It is a scary period in life where you truly believe you are determining what the rest of your life will be like and sometimes the prospects of that aren’t exactly on the positive side of things. Whether or not this turns out to be true or not is both unknowable to myself and Frances and the film does a fine job of conveying her anxiousness in not knowing where she will end up. She is yearning to know that her reality will meet her goals, but the constant fear of that not happening looms over her day to day life. It is something that is only escalated by the apparent ease with which all of her friends are dealing with this process. This also leads to the film unearthing something more than these typical issues of trying to find one’s self and carve out a place in the world, but also a layer of having to deal with relationships and the growth of friendship even if that means you are growing apart. The film deals specifically with that kind of relationship between girlfriends who view one another as family and that point in time where they have to essentially break up from constantly hanging out with one another and find themselves in relationships with guys that might eventually produce their own families. When one friend begins to make this transition and the other doesn’t it creates an awkward situation for the latter friend to fall into. That is where we find Greta Gerwig’s Frances as the film eases us into her life and gives us a lovely and quirky little slice of life that is just as charming and authentic as the titular character.

As this titular hero of sorts Gerwig completely makes the film subject to the personality she decides to create. Having co-written the script with director Noah Baumbach (the two also collaborated in Greenberg) it is clear the actress has taken plenty of cues and intimate moments from her real life and applied them to a story that has no overall arc that it needs to reach or complete, but instead chronicles a simple point in time that she will be able to look back on and laugh at and be happy to know she realized that these were the good ole days while she was living them. Though the film begins with setting up Frances’ friendship with Sophie (Mickey Sumner) it quickly moves on to show that Sophie is getting restless, is becoming a part of a serious relationship and has a job that will lead to the career she wants. Francis, on the other hand, just broke up with a boyfriend in large part because he proposed the idea of moving in together and she immediately thought of how such a change would threaten her relationship with Sophie. It is no coincidence that just as the conversation between Frances and her former beau is hitting rocky ground that Sophie calls and exudes all the qualities that make her the kind of best friend Frances doesn’t have to simply put up with. In that moment, through that conversation Frances’ mind is made up and she takes her boyfriend’s comments about the fact this “may not be working” as literal as she can and gets up to leave while it is clear he wanted some resistance from her. The film is full of small, honest moments like this that make us root for Gerwig and her goofy yet elegant portrayal of this hipster who wants to live the lifestyle she always imagined New York would be yet can’t seem to catch a break. As the film plays on it gives us the ups and downs of the life Frances is leading without allowing it to become monotonous, though at one point you get the vibe that is what Baumbach is going for. I haven’t seen any of the directors previous work besides the other aforementioned project he worked with Gerwig on (I know, I need to see The Squid and the Whale, but I haven’t) but it is clear he likes to focus on these characters who are very self-aware and understand not only how they are perceived by others, but how they need to be perceived to feel good about themselves.

Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and Frances (Greta Gerwig) in Frances Ha.
Baumbach shoots the film in black and white making it reminiscent of the French new wave films while having that Woody Allen vibe of walking around New York and allowing the conversation to form the substance of the story that is being told. It is at once very simplistic while on the other side had to be extremely precise and expertly calculated for it to feel as authentic as it ends up being. This is the films strong suit as it excels at making the mundane, the everyday occurrences and conversations into a piece of entertainment that reassures its characters and its audience that what’s going to happen will happen and we can only do our best to make it go the way we’d prefer. It is a character study of sorts that I was initially weary of as it seemed nothing more than a fantasy world of a young, white twenty-something living the unconventional and completely artistic lifestyle that the greatest city in the world seems to so nicely facilitate without having to take much responsibility because they have plenty of money at home supporting them. Though the film does feature a pair of characters like this they only serve to make us appreciate the struggles Frances encounters and the attitude with which she deals with them. She is an honest, sometimes too much, human being and this peek into her life the film offers isn’t necessarily anything spectacular or groundbreaking, but it is rather lovely and a pleasant way to spend a brisk hour and twenty-five minutes.