Frances Ha was advertised as a comedy, which is isn’t really, or at least I didn’t find it that funny. We went in fact having gotten the impression it was a Dutch film, which it most certainly is not. In fact, this is probably very much an American film, and one aimed to speak at a very certain subset of Americans my age, those of us that were raised in comfort and told to follow our dreams and not told what to do when we didn’t succeed, and then when we grew up and tried to do so, found there might not be room for us anywhere. It’s no coincidence that auter Noah Baumbach’s co-writer Greta Gerwig, who also plays the heroine, is in her late twenties; and this is a movie for her peers.
In the case of Frances Ha that lack of places in the world for young people is illustrated quite literally; the movie opens with Frances losing her NYC apartment because her heterosexual life partner Sophie ditches her, and for most of the rest of the movie she is dependent on the kindness of other people just to have a roof over her head. Intellectually one supposes her situation has solutions, and as the movie acknowledges in one scene she isn’t really poor, but still, when we’re watching her dancing career fail because there’s no room for her in a dance world strapped for cash by the depression, for those of us raised to fear failure above all other things, this movie hits home. She does stupid things, like go into debt for two days in Paris, which unfortunately many of us are prone to do, and humiliating things, like take volunteer positions meant for college kids(I actually did that once, by inadvertent subterfuge). Some moments are exaggerated, but in the early part of the film there really aren’t many of them, and throughout all of it Gerwig completely inhabits the character.
Watching Sophie put her ambitions ahead of their friendship and the two of them move apart, and Frances connect with other people but have trouble keeping them either perhaps hits close too; we have been raised to be selfish, and we pay a price, sometimes a very painful one. Though of course women are still held to a different standard; when her fiance gets a big job offer in Japan Sophie effectively is obliged to give up everything, and arguably ends up in worse situation than Frances, even if it’s a stable one, and though in one scene she talks about leaving him to get out of it, the final scenes show them married.
These final scenes do pull away from the film’s depressiveness, however, with Gerwig perhaps unable to finish it. Here, when Frances accepts she’ll have to take an office job, there’s one available for her, and there isn’t quite the acknowledgement that even getting that is an achievement for her, and effectively what she got out of the dance apprenticeship that she clearly feels she got nothing out of because she didn’t get into the company. She even gets to do choreography on the side, and while one supposes her side career will always run into the red, her friends are all there to praise her, and she and Sophie even work things out enough to remain special to each other, with one moment where their relationship fulfills a dream spoken of by Frances earlier in the film that would be the film’s happy ending if it seemed at all believable. The final scene especially is one that raises the longing of the boomerang generation; the possibility she might be beginning a new romantic relationships with someone does not stop her from triumphantly claiming an apartment of her own, now settled and surviving in NYC.
This is also the second film in a row I’ve seen in black and white, and I’m starting to wonder if that’s a trend. I hope it’s not something directors start to do out of a vague thought of being artistic; that would be silly.