Frances Ha (2012)

Synopsis: A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn’t really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possibility dwindles.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: This movie was not widely released and I found out about it through a series of YouTube videos that Brent and I watch. I was intrigued by the fact that it’s a modern movie shot in black and white. And it looked quirky and hilarious.

Leah’s Review:

It’s a plot we’ve all heard before: “A young twenty-something tries to make it in the big city”. We open on our hero who’s struggling to make something of themselves. There are ups. There are downs. But, in the end, everything turns out alright. (Roll credits.)

“Frances Ha” is seemingly no different. Frances (the protagonist) is a plucky, quirky dancer who, although at times can be infuriating, you root for. She struggles. She messes up (a lot). She hits rock bottom. Eventually, she picks herself back up and makes things right.

However, I would not call “Frances Ha” cliche. The story is a very transparent look at how hard it can be to figure out who you are and what your life should look like. Much of the movies’ strength lies in its script, which I have since found out was very loosely written- allowing the actors to improvise a lot of their lines- lending to its feeling of authenticity. I really appreciated that it was shot in black-and-white. It allowed me to concentrate on the characters and their emotions more so than what was going on around them.

I liked “Frances Ha” a lot. It’s raw and real. It has a quick, witty, and sarcastic humor to it that doesn’t feel contrived. Maybe I liked it so much because I felt like I could relate to this twenty-something woman who doesn’t know exactly what she wants out of life (and doesn’t always make an effort to decide what she should be doing).

“Frances Ha” is a story of self-discovery. But it’s also a story about friendship. When the movie begins, Frances and her boyfriend have just broken up. Her attempts at future romantic relationships are clumsy and awkward. The film doesn’t choose to focus on Frances’ love life, but instead looks at the relationship of Frances and her best friend Sophie.

Throughout “Frances Ha”, we see the influence Frances’ friendship with Sophie has on her life. Frances and Sophie are platonic soulmates. Quoting Frances, Sophie is “[her] person”. (Maybe that’s another reason film resonated with me so much- there’s something so inexplicably powerful about female friendship). But their relationship isn’t perfect. Frances and Sophie drift apart due to various circumstances. This forces Frances into a downward spiral as she becomes stubbornly dishonest with her friends, family and even herself- to the point of self-destruction. She spends her money frivolously, turns down a respectable job, and puts her dreams on hold in favor of mediocrity.

Frances and Sophie’s eventual reconciliation launches Frances into a new, independent, and self-sufficient chapter of her life. She takes a menial, but steady job. She gets her own apartment. She also begins a choreography career in which she is both passionate and talented. Not every piece of her life is perfectly in place, but she’s found beauty in the imperfections of her life. It’s an uplifting conclusion that doesn’t feel overly-cheesy and gives the viewer space to reflect on their own beautiful imperfections and relationships.

Brent’s Review

Frances Ha is a film that buries a fairly straightforward and familiar plot beneath a script with little-to-no expository dialogue. The narrative isn’t pushed forward by what’s said, but what we see. For a film that does an awful lot of talking, it can be easy to miss the key elements of the story that push it from its inciting incident to its inevitable resolution.

We come upon Frances at age twenty-seven: broke, aimless, and living with her friend Sophie with whom she is both infatuated and deeply dependent. Her dependence is so strong that she rejects an offer to advance the relationship with her boyfriend because she would rather renew a lease with Sophie, despite not having discussed this with her beforehand. But the narrative kicks into gear when Sophie decides to move into an apartment Frances cannot afford, setting forward a familiar narrative of self-discovery in this coming-of-age tale.

We meet new characters and Frances finds herself in new situations along the way, but they all serve to highlight her feeling of aimless wandering as she tries to break into the touring company at her ballet studio. She bounces from couch to couch, often staying with acquaintances until she can find stable footing. Eventually, she makes a series of brash decisions that force her to hit rock bottom before she is able to stand up and learn how to be independent.

One thing I’ve always found peculiar about the recent trend of indie/twenty-something/coming-of-age entertainment hitting the small (and now, big) screens is this sense in which income is never a true concern. Frances is deep in debt and has no source of income, but somehow she can afford $950 a month to pay the rent. As a fellow twenty-something, I find myself asking how this can be… how can she have enough reserve money to continue to live like this? While Frances Ha makes more effort to explain this than I have seen in other films and TV shows, it still makes me wonder how realistic this story really can be. Ultimately, I find it harder to connect with the protagonist.

The film is undoubtedly held together by Greta Gerwig’s brilliant performance as Frances. She is not only believable, but she takes a character with few character traits and imbues her with a vibrant, charming, and funny personality. The ensemble performance is serviceable, but this is Gerwig’s show: she sinks her teeth into this role and flourishes. Her strength is in her off-beat, herky-jerky awkward delivery. I’m certain she is destined for indie-genre stardom, perhaps with some crossover success in mainstream films, but this is not an actress you will see in a blockbuster, unlike her co-star Adam Driver.

Frances Ha is short and light, like an appetizer. It’s good, but I can’t help but feel that it really only served to prepare me for a main entree it was never designed to deliver. It’s worth a watch if you have 90 minutes to spare.

Up next: From a indie flick to a classic, we’ll be taking in the first of a few Hitchcock thrillers from our list, “North by Northwest”, later this week.

Peace out, kids.


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