Frances Ha (2012), directed and co-written by Vassar alumni Noah Baumbach, stars co-writer Greta Gerwig as quirky, 27-year-old, aspiring dancer Frances Halladay. The film is beautifully intimate in showcasing Frances’s coming-of-age journey through the tribulations of impending responsibility in adulthood. The independent film debuted at Telluride Film Festival on 1 September 2012 and was later released in a limited release on 17 May 2013 by IFC Films.
The story begins with black and white scenes of Frances and her best friend and roommate, Sophie, played by Mickey Summer, gallivanting around Brooklyn. The girls’ special bond is immediately obvious, which lends itself to the importance of the friendship within Frances’s city life. After an awkward break-up scene in which her then-boyfriend, Dan, played by Michael Esper, unsuccessfully asks her to move in with him, Frances learns that Sophie has decided to move out and move in to her dream neighborhood in Tribeca, sans Frances. Being unable to afford the apartment alone and feeling abandoned, Frances’s cringe-worthy yet comical experience of landing a new living arrangement with Benji and Lev, two guys, unfolds in a calculated yet free directorial manner.
Once Frances is officially moved into the Chinatown apartment, it becomes certainly evident that her life needs a tremendous amount of TLC. Her role as an apprentice in a dance company seems to be a dead-end, her friends are hitting their first “real world” success checkpoints while she’s floundering, and her relationship with Sophie is diminishing quickly.
From the audience’s perspective, she’s declining good career opportunities and missing romantic signals from her roommate Benji. Though frustrating, it is through these moments of Frances’s isolating behavior that the audience begins to identify with her sense of loneliness. When Frances impulsively books a two-day trip to Paris, France, on a credit card, she sleeps her first day away until 4 in the afternoon.
When she returns for a meeting with her dance company’s director, she is offered a desk position instead of a spot in the company. Upset and in vain, she stubbornly declines the opportunity and decides to move back to her alma mater, Vassar, to work as a summer RA and [not a waitress but] “pouring girl.”
One night while Frances is awkwardly doing her job as “pouring girl” at a university alumni auction event, she runs into Sophie and Sophie’s boyfriend, Patch, played by Patrick Heusinger. Embarrassed, she tries to hide until she overhears the news that Sophie has made big plans with Patch without telling her. Once the two old friends rekindle, the film finally begins to have an air of imminent fortune for Frances.
It is then that Frances returns to Washington Heights in NYC and takes up that desk job with the old dance company. In her spare time, she works with a group of dancers on a special choreography project. She is wearing her hair differently and carries a better stance – it is obvious that something’s finally clicking within her. She’s happily living alone and affording it, and she’s doing what she loves with the means she has. After a successful choreographing debut at a small, black box theatre, for which all of the main characters of her life come, Benji officially initiates a romantic move. The film ends with the relief that Frances feels in that she finally has her “stuff together,” and that everything, as cliché as it sounds, will be okay.
The film is an amazing commentary on the loneliness and difficulty of early adulthood. Featuring many frames of Frances literally and metaphorically alone, the audience is confronted with the emotion they felt during the times of their lives when they felt helpless and lost on their own journey to independence. Frances’s character development by the end of the film is absolutely hopeful and inspiring — if Frances can do it, anyone can. Frances Ha is unquestionably a must-see film for any person who loves the realistic intimacy that filmmaking has the power to create.