I’m not sure how much I can really write about this movie, even though I really did enjoy it; these mumblecore movies are great and I love watching them, but they are kind of hard to write about. Frances Ha is a great little movie about a young woman, Frances, and her attempts to make a life for her in NYC after being out of college for a couple years. She has a best friend, Sophie, who is dating a guy she doesn’t like and Frances must contend with both of their lives changing and evolving, as they more fully become adults. The movie probably spans eight months and ends on a very positive and happy note. The movie is shot in black and white, which really adds to the look and emotional expression of the movie. Also, the music is pitch perfect; really, I don’t think they could have scored or picked better music for this movie than they did.
I had a pretty strong reaction to many aspects of this film. Unlike a lot of movies or even TV shows like this movie, I found the main character to be fundamentally likable and endearing. Francis is caught in that in between time after college but before “real” adulthood that plagues so many members of her (which is mine) generation. On that level, it’s no surprise that I like her; we share many of the same struggles and challenges in life. Even though she is a female dancer living in New York City and I’m a male definitely-not-a-dancer living in Sacramento, I felt a really strong kinship with her. Her relationship with her best friend, Sophie, was especially resonant with me; they have an intense bond that is clear from the start and yet they have passionate fights about a variety of things, all of which make a lot of sense to me. Nothing in this film felt impossible or out of place.
Besides making most shots look better and more atmospheric, the black and white choice allows the watcher to focus more on the characters themselves instead of what’s going on around them. It also exudes an innocent and simplicity that reflects Francis’s outlook at life; for her, at this time and place, things are still pretty simple and straightforward. They may not be great, they may be about to change, but that simplicity is there and I really liked that about the film. Any movie taking place in New York City risks having the city itself take over any scene and make us forget who the characters are and what they are going. This movie does an excellent job of balancing the powerful setting with the needs of the characters. Francis living in NYC says a lot about her and what she wants to do in life, especially when we learn that she traveled there from across the country.
Since the movie is almost completely about Francis, and her life is in flux, the movie has a lonely feel to it. But the movie does something with that lonely feeling that I quite loved; it doesn’t make it a bad thing. Frances is alone a lot; she is single, doesn’t have many friends, her family is thousands of miles away and her one great friend is otherwise occupied and yet it doesn’t get Francis down. She continues to move forward and make choices in her life, even if some of those choices are kind of dumb or not ideal. Like going to Paris, which she does. In any other movie, going to Paris for a weekend would be a moment of clarity and the turning point of her life and the film, but since life isn’t like that the trip is kind of a bust. I did not expect the movie to be so clever with such a well-worn convention of story telling and I laughed loudly when she realizes what a bust the whole trip was.
All the performances are strong, but this movie obviously sparkles because Greta Gerwig is so great in it. And she is; the whole movie, its lightness, its magical sense of the real, its wonder and confusion, are all projected out from her and her performance. Much like Girls so clearly seems to reflect so much of its main character and creator, so to does Frances Ha. I know she was not the only writer of this film, but her contribution to the script and her casting as the main character make the film seem to be Gerwig’s in a way that most films simply cannot do. Her understanding and intimate connection with the character make the movie truly great and a complete joy to watch. Seek this movie out.
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