Frances Ha is a rare and wonderful film that give thanks for friends and revels in life’s low times.
Director Noah Baumbach and star/co-writer Greta Gerwig steer the twenty-something coming-of-age story clear of sap and stereotypes, diving straight into a deep pool of modern identity and splashing around with fantastic fun and vigor.
Frances (Gerwig) and her Best-Friend-Forever Sophie (Mickey Sumner) start the film literally running around New York reading books, drinking beers, cracking inside jokes, and flirting with boys who think it’s a good idea to text, “Ahoy sexy!” They share their long afternoons, sandwiches, and even a bed, falling asleep together as Frances whispers, “I love you Sophie, even if you love your phone that has email more than me.”
When Sophie announces that she’s ditching Frances for an upgrade to Manhattan—”I’m not leaving you, I’m just changing neighborhoods”— Frances is left with empty cupboards, no bookshelves, and a dawning sense that she has no idea what she’s doing with her life.
Both main characters are relatable enough to make your heart hurt; Frances and Sophie aren’t just the best female characters I’ve seen on screen this year, they’re the best characters I’ve seen on screen this year, period. They hit a realistic chord that resonates in the zone between original and familiar. Frances is a beautiful, energetic 27-year-old schlub who wanders fashionable New York in a practical backpack, can’t keep her room clean, and has a knack for choreographing dance. Sophie is on the surface more pulled together—her hair brushed, her glasses hip—but as she locks herself into an “adult” life (rich fiance, book publishing job, trendy apartment), she’s on the same road of self-doubt as sloppy Frances.
Through the two friends’ meandering choices, the movie reckons with the reality that 27 feels old. As Frances and Sophie move away from her youthful support system, they muddle through building their own lives without many role models. With infinite options, big dreams, and minimal financial resources, what kind of lives will we young women carve out for ourselves these days?
Of course, Frances isn’t real old—but she feels old. She’s not real poor—but she feels poor. She hasn’t hit rock bottom when she loses her best friend, has to work a crappy summer job, and is surrounded by people who appear to have lives full of easy romance and trips to Paris—but she certainly feels like the magic is gone and she’s suddenly in the world alone. She’s aware, in moments, of how good she has life (with a middle class childhood, supportive parents, and access to a college education)—but still her hurt is real.
Unlike other films that reduce this mid-twenties malaise to hipster grumbling or use it merely as a prop for seeking cure-all romance, Frances Ha legitimizes this modern period of doubt and exploration as the makings of a profound coming-of-age story. The women’s problems are not remedied by a knight in shining armor, but through honest analysis of themselves.
Numerous books and articles have lamented the choices twenty-something women have these days. A rethinking of the traditional roles around gender and sexuality has left our generation without a roadmap for relationships. Frances Ha is an eminently enjoyable rejection of the notion that too much choice can be a bad thing. Instead, Frances embraces the mess in her life and learns from it. Moving between jobs, relationships, friends, and apartments helps Frances grow up—choosing between options (and making frequent mistakes) helps her discern for herself who she is and what she wants. As a deep self-confidence replaces youthful enthusiasm, Frances finds her own way to becoming a smart, talented, flawed woman who will still dance all over New York with her friends.