Revisiting Frances Ha


I re-watched Frances Ha the other night and it’s as fresh as a daisy despite being made seven years ago. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t hold up because I remembered its plot as being somewhat slight, focused on the travails of Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig) a late-blooming twenty-something who hasn’t quite figured out her path in life — or as she puts it, “I’m not a real person yet.” In our exhausting, post-Trump world, where we seem constantly to be in the midst of environmental and human rights catastrophes, I wasn’t sure the story would feel urgent enough. But I forgot how funny and self-aware this movie is.

Gerwig co-wrote the script with director Noah Baumbach, and a big part of the humor is that as an actor and a writer, Gerwig gets that the low stakes are part of the comedy. It’s funny to see a middle-class girl-woman like Frances Ha go through what is essentially a hero’s journey as she figures out basic stuff like finding an apartment and holding down a steady job. She’s propelled on her quest by the loss of her best friend/roommate who doesn’t die but instead commits herself to a guy who is kind of boring. Without a roommate, Frances must find a place to live, and her challenge is to find an affordable apartment in New York City. As she bounces from place to place she learns about the limits of her talent, her budget, and her friendships. It’s typical growing up stuff –“adulting” as the millennials call it — that you have to master at some point in your twenties. Maybe it comes a little later for Frances because of her goofy, dreamy nature, or maybe she’s just a creative person on a different trajectory from her peers in more predictable careers.

When I first watched this movie, in 2012, I was pregnant with my first child, and felt, for the first time in my life, to be somewhat settled in my writing career. And yet, I could relate to Frances Ha’s struggles. I was close enough to my late twenties that I could remember the confusion and insecurity I felt as many of my friends graduated from professional schools and settled into stable, long-term careers. I remember going to a lot of weddings, writing constantly, and feeling, much of the time, like a very sorry excuse of a person. Watching Frances Ha now, I have more distance on my late twenties and can appreciate it as an important and distinct period when I made decisions that shaped the course of my life. My angst at that time seems completely warranted, and I admire the way this movie seems to have perspective on this life stage, understanding that Frances is not a completely ridiculous person even if she feels like one.

In addition to all that, this movie is full of great lines and beautifully shot in black and white. New York looks romantic and there’s a great scene when Gerwig leap-runs through the nighttime streets, bounding across crosswalks, looking helplessly youthful even as she’s chasing adulthood.

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