Last night, on what was an ideal summer night, when the heat wave of the weekend was just starting to break and a pleasant breeze was blowing, Joe and I went to the movies to see Frances Ha. I had read a recent profile of Noah Baumbach, the film’s director, and the star, Greta Gerwig, in The New Yorker, and I was intrigued. I feel I should offer a disclaimer here and say I’m not a Baumbach fan. I’ve only seen two of his films, and didn’t especially like either one of them (The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding). Though I appreciate dark films, those movies struck me as being dark in all the wrong ways–there was no joy or real energy to either movie, in my opinion.
So why was I so looking forward to Frances Ha? The title of the article I read was “Happiness” and it emphasized how this film was much, much lighter than most of Baumbach’s previous work, and that Gerwig has a background in improvisation. I knew it was about a 20-something woman living in New York trying to figure it all out, a subject that is, unsurprisingly, relevant to my interests.
I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed the movie and I think it’s worth seeing, especially if you enjoy quirky black and white films with a lovable heroine and a great soundtrack. Perhaps what is most notable, and appealing, about Frances Ha is that it doesn’t glamorize living in New York–at least to the point of Sex in the City or The Devil Wears Prada. Gerwig is effervescent as Frances, a 27-year-old woman living with her best friend Sophie in an apartment in Brooklyn where they often share a bed and smoke out of open windows. They are so close that Frances consistently refers to Sophie as “the same person, with different hair.” But when Sophie moves in with her bro boyfriend, a wealthy banker, Frances’ fragile life begins to fall apart at the seams as she drifts from a couch in an overpriced apartment in Chinatown to crashing with a dancer friend to RAing for the summer in her old college dorm upstate. Living in New York is fun, but it’s also expensive, exhausting, and soul-crushing.
Another strength of the movie is that it doesn’t play out as a typical rom-com where the quirky lead gets her life together and falls in love. The main love in Frances’ life is Sophie, despite the messy ways their friendship evolves. Beyond Sophie, Frances is committed to her dream of being a dancer, though she is just an apprentice at a struggling company. She is forced to come to grips with the realities of not making it, paying rent, and saying goodbye to close friendships, and she does it all with the kind of goofy charisma that makes you want to give her a huge hug. She loves her parents, runs dancing through the streets of New York, and travels to Paris for two days just so she can say she’s been somewhere. If you don’t fall in love with her by the end of the movie, I don’t think we’d be friends.