Essays/Articles / Film Reviews

REVIEW: ‘Frances Ha’ (2012) dir. Noah Baumbach

Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha

Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha

For me, what this charming film is really about can be summed up in a line spoken by the main character, Frances, herself: “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.” The central point of the film is the character of Frances, wonderfully played by the film’s co-writer Greta Gerwig, as she struggles to find her sense of self, a struggle that is highlighted by the various mundane issues she faces throughout the film: losing her job, maintaining an apartment, and most importantly her rocky relationship with her best friend Sophie, who is clearly doing a much better job of being ‘a real person’ and consequently is leaving Frances behind.

The film is not one to watch for a riveting plot; Frances’ two days in Paris seem to be a major point of the film during which she aimlessly wanders around the city, calling a friend who never picks up her phone, and it seems a reflection of the aimless wandering she’s doing mentally and through her life. Her loneliness is deliberately pinpointed especially during these scenes, however, the film makes no attempt to do any serious soul searching for the dramatic source of the loneliness as perhaps another film would have done, for example, there is no uncovering of an unhappy childhood or abusive relationship. Instead, the film seems to accept this loneliness, this wandering, as a necessary part of the process of becoming a ‘real person’, an angle that is refreshingly accurate and one that I think endears the viewer to Frances’ character even more.

In a similar way, Frances has difficulty leaving places, we see her constantly lingering in doorways, announcing that she’s leaving and then hanging around for several minutes hoping she’ll be given a reason to stay longer. We see her at her happiest when she is back with her parents in Sacramento, we see her unwilling to move on from her job as a modern dancer when she is told they won’t be using her in the Christmas show, and she refuses to move in with her boyfriend because she doesn’t want to move out of the apartment she shares with her best friend. All these elements work so well to create a view of Frances as someone who clings to the past, who cannot move on, and so while there is no great resolution to the film and the whole thing is practically the middle of a story without beginning or end, when we see Frances choreograph a dance routine at the end of the film, signifying a slight shift in her career, there is a sense of accomplishment.

The very end sees her trying to fit a piece of paper with her name, ‘Frances Halliday’, into the slot on her new mailbox, but it will not fit and she is forced to leave it as reading ‘Frances Ha’, and this is perhaps the most poignant moment of the film, the moment that best sums up the entire thing, because it shows her as not quite completely realised as a person, but also that she is taking the steps to get there; she has not stopped wandering entirely, but at least now she is wandering forwards.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see people describe the film as a little pleased with itself, or a little too hip for its own good, seeing as it is shot entirely in black and white and set in New York. But, there are points in which I feel it is aware of this, and tries to poke a little bit of fun at itself; for example, Sophie at one point points out that only rich people can afford to be artists in New York. Ultimately, it is the character of Frances that always manages to pull it back down to earth. In my opinion, the black and white works perfectly for the film as it ensures there is nothing to distract the viewer from what the film is really focused on: Frances herself and her relationships with others.

I loved this film for the endearing, witty, artsy central character of Frances, for the way I connected so well with her and for the way the entire film was cleverly structured to reflect her personality and her feelings, which in turn were wonderfully and realistically delivered. It is certainly not a film that is bothered with plot, but I feel as though I found a friend in Frances Halliday, and for that alone this is certainly one of my favourite films of the past few years.

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