Quirky, fun and philosophical, Frances Ha is a rare gem in popular cinema. The film charts the friendship and conflict between Frances and her flatmate Sophie, and highlights the life of Frances as a struggling dancer. The black-and-white cinematography creates a strange yet satisfying mood. Instead of relying on dramatic plot or the change of scenes, the film rests on a solid, tender narrative: the intense bonding and competitiveness between the two friends. The girlish intimacy between Frances and Sophie appears slightly awkward at the outset, and it takes some time to warm up to the story. As it unfolds, however, the film gathers momentum, and the complexity of the characters becomes evident. Frances’s naive persistence in life and her lack of self-confidence make her vulnerable, authentic and likeable, while Sophie – who decides to leave the flat and move in with her banker boyfriend in a ‘better neighbourhood’, Tribeca – represents another way of adapting. There is a lot of attention in the making of dialogue, characterisation and pace. Frances’s struggle with her dancing career, friendships, with rentals and bills as one tries to make her way in an expensive city, will no doubt resonate in the hearts of many.
The scene where we see Frances socialising with her middle-class friends – mostly mid-career professionals- is affectionate and hilarious. There is an unmistakable air of pretentiousness going on as each other brags about his or her success in life, and yet Frances’s less-than-glamorous stories, or nearly-ramblings, come across as more endearing and genuine. She is almost embarrassed to admit that she is a dancer, afraid of being judged. When asked about the difficulty of achieving her goal, or her job, she confronts her own fears: by confessing ‘because I don’t really do it.’
One of the most touching moments in the film is when the director of the dance company offers Frances a junior office role, and she decides to turn it down even if she has no better option, fearing it to be a compromise to her dream. The director remarks that she would really like Frances to work more on choreography. Frances said, ‘You make it sound so easy.’ ‘I’m not saying it’s easy.’ Gerwig has delivered the artist’s inner fears with tremendous grace. Her reconciliation with her best friend Sophie, who has also gone through dramatic changes in her life, helps her regain her foothold and confidence. Frances’s life changes direction as she reconsiders her options and fights for what she really wants, caring less the opinion of others.
The script, co-written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, stands out for its unconventional, un-Hollywood treatment, witty dialogue and refreshing soundtrack. The first part of the film might take some time to warm up to, and at times feels a bit awkward, but all in all, it’s an inspiring and thoughtfully produced piece.