I remember the first viewing of Frances Ha well enough and how it treated me then. At the time, I was unfamiliar with Greta Gerwig and my first impression only had me thinking that what I was watching was cute and funny. The more I watch Greta Gerwig, I slowly realize what it is about the way she writes her characters that keeps me watching them as their stories are being told for us on the screen, and what I think about from then onward is the state of her own life in which she is living in. Frances Halladay is old enough to own an apartment, find a job for herself, but she spends her days living in Brooklyn as if she were younger. But it isn’t her own fault either, rather instead she lives the way that she does because it’s the result of her own environment as Gerwig and Baumbach write her to be. It is the very feeling that you know the circumstances of such a lifestyle so well enough that pulls yourself closer to Frances Ha.
Frances is 27 years old. She aspires to become a dancer and she lives together with her best friend, Sophie, who plans to relocate. Frances is unable to pay the rent, but she never wants to lose touch of what it is that makes her happy. For some, they would find Frances to be infuriating but that’s where the sweetness of Frances Ha breathes alive. Being a first-year college student who is still seeking a job while living on allowance, spending most of the money on the stuff I know makes me happy, I found it so easy to empathize with her own struggle. It feels almost chilling to think of Frances Ha as a feel-good comedy anymore because you never want to let go of that feeling of being the best of yourself to a degree where it almost feels like it’s such selfishness that ends up defining you. For some, it is such a hard state of life to have lived under but because of the familiarity present in the environment that Frances lives within, you only want to remember the happy memories of such because you think it is where you find yourself at your best.
Every time I watch Frances Ha, I’m reminded of that time where I think everything is going well. As a matter of fact, being a college student still managing with what is possible through the financial support I receive from my parents, what stings most is the notion that I’d like to think it will be lasting, but I know it isn’t going to. It won’t last long enough had I succumbed to my own selfishness and I’ll probably have ended up dooming myself so quickly. Frances Halladay feels like the sort of person who is a result of what happens when they know they’re unprepared for what’s set to come, but that’s only one of the smallest factors present as to why she is so relatable in the way that Noah Baumbach paints her out to be. Even in the moments where you know a character like her can get on your nerves, it still feels so oddly relatable because she isn’t to be blamed for being the way she is – rather instead she is the product of the environment she lives within.
Baumbach’s style, having been influenced by the French New Wave, even going as far as to including music by Georges Delerue and Antoine Duhamel, finds itself at some of its very best use in Frances Ha – because it reflects the nature of Frances’s life. She is seeking an escape from the life that she lives, akin to Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows, but she believes that she is living in that escape. The nature in which the music is played reflects the joy that she feels she needs to live within, and what’s set to come afterward. But in a sense, it gives a perfect mood for the film, one that feels like fantasy as it mixes together with the more modern soundtrack whether it be the inclusions of David Bowie or T.Rex – because that’s what Frances wants to imagine her life is, within a romanticization of New York akin to the French New Wave’s own for Paris, despite the condition where she lives within.
I’m at the point of my life where I’m not so sure I can really let go of what I was during my youth, and maybe I might not be able to do so. Frances, in her youthful spirit and willingness to stick together with her best friend no matter what, represents that fear of a lack of an identity that comes forth from the loss of youth. She’s nearing her thirties and everywhere she goes, it is clear that she is afraid to grow up and that’s where the crux of Frances Ha comes by. Frances just wants to stay happy, but she kept herself confined too much and now that she won’t have much to go, all her fears begin to close in on her. It’s amazing just how Baumbach and Gerwig can conceive such a character and build every emotion to feel so raw, all from the way that Greta Gerwig plays the title role.
As the film is about to conclude, it doesn’t really seem to end – because we know that even if we manage to live on our own, we still feel that there’s something missing. The memories that we live within, being a result of our own happiness, are much harder to form. But over there is another lesson to be learned, in what was a series of misadventures led by Frances Halladay. It just feels like a cycle ready to start over once again, only beginning with the movement away from an ending. It feels like a movement away from one phase of life, because this whole film is about Frances accepting what is coming forth. Am I ready to do that on my own? I don’t know how to answer that, but the most life-affirming sentiment to which Frances Ha can address is that we are still able to cling onto these moments as memories that define us as people, as shown from Frances and Sophie’s friendship.
I always had a feeling from my past viewings of Frances Ha that I was missing something, but looking at where I am in life, I can’t help but feel touched whenever I think about what’s set to become of Frances’s life. I’m not so sure how Noah Baumbach manages to create such intimate portraits of life within 90 minutes or less, and thus leave us a moment of reflection afterwards from watching characters that don’t feel constructed, they’re real. The joy in watching Frances Ha is just knowing how much of it plays like a memory you want to hold onto. But in Baumbach’s celebration of life, what also comes by is the awkwardness that defines our character – to which it’s all about finding the best place for oneself, without ever letting go of the friendships that have come along the way. After all, like Bowie’s song, it really is “Modern Love.” The pain is having to live in this fear, and like Frances, just being uncertain what comes next – which is where I’ve feared I’ll stay for a long while. Like Frances herself says, “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.”
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via IFC Films.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Screenplay by Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Produced by Noah Baumbach, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub, Rodrigo Teixeira
Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Charlotte d’Amboise, Adam Driver
Release Year: 2012
Running Time: 86 minutes