Dir: Noah Baumbach
US: 86 min • Pine District Pictures, RT Features, Scott Rudin Productions • July 26, 2013
Andrew Darley reviews
Our closest friends are those who enable us to reflect on our lives and dream the possibilities of where we would like ourselves to go. They are the ones with whom we indulgently bounce ideas about the future off, think aloud, make plans with and offer support when they fail to go the way we envisioned.
When Frances’ best friend abruptly announces that she is to fly their shared apartment to live elsewhere, the decision brings a startling adaption to life on her own. Frances Ha tells the story of a 27 year old New York making-ends-meet dancer who has lived vicariously through and in the company of her closest friend and is thrown into a flummox when the safety net of the cozy friendship is torn from under her. Once alone, we follow Frances through the consequential period in which she must grapple with doing things for herself and, essentially, grow up. Frances’ biggest challenge is addressing her own maturity and how she views the world around her. She has thought little about her career and now finds herself caught adrift as an intern in a dance company who are unable to offer her future prospects.
Greta Gerwig’s performance shines, and nails the feeling of nothing going right in life and the consequences of the unfortunate decisions we can make. It’s these choices that make for sincerely hilarious moments, such as when the already bankrupt Frances decides to take an impromptu two-day trip to Paris on a newfound credit card and ends up sleeping through most of it. As the film progresses and the problems of rent and loneliness take their toll, we witness her in the company of others who speak the unspeakable and it truly makes you squirm in your seat.
Those who enjoyed Lena Dunham’s smash-hit series Girls will lap this film up. The obvious similarities of young New York women trying to make their way in the world and the importance of friendship are glaring. However, it also shares those unflattering, toe-curling moments we’d prefer to keep in the privacy of our own heads that made the series instantly charming. At a dinner party amongst strangers, we are unsure whether to laugh or cry at the increasingly emotional Frances spilling the gory details of her background and recent abandonment to the blank faces looking back at her.
Nonetheless, the comedy of the film is lightly balanced with insight into character’s internal world. No matter where she is, New York, Paris or her hometown; she always carries her black balloon of uncertainty and loneliness. Frances shows how a strong friendship can give us a reference point in the world to ground us. Gerwig’s effortless role, disjointed sequencing and often-pretentious surrounding characters captures a sense of detachment and dislocation in the life when it’s taken away. Although the film does not end with a sense of resolution, it does leave you coming away feeling true friendship can resolve and outlast all.
Frances Ha is a slow burner. It starts off with the intimate and sometime cringing depiction of the idiosyncrasies of two friends before turning into an endearing coming of adulthood tale in which we witness a young woman resiliently persevere whilst accepting the realities of life. The film’s charisma comes from its honest portrayal of growing up; the fears, the doubts and the awkward moments we encounter in figuring ourselves out.