Frances Ha (2012)

“Tell me the story of us,” Frances (Gret Gerwig) asks Sophie (Mickey Sumner), her flatmate. Sophie talks about how Frances will go on to be a world-renowned dancer while she will land a major job at a publishing house and they’ll remain steadfast friends and work together. It’s not spoiling anything to say the rest of the film ends up telling a slightly less remarkable story.

Frances and Sophie live under a common ailment of young people: aspirations and expectations that will never be met. As Frances life evolves, she finds her attempt to climb up the professional ladder of dance is brought to a halt, her friendships begin to dissolve, and her attempts to live life big and adventurous come up empty.

Far from wallowing in the problems of young white people, Frances Ha is written with enough wit, comedy and tact to balance the wonder of privilege against the legitimate struggles of life faced by this demographic. The sense of isolation, failure to launch a career and lack of romance are all presented in ways that give them genuine credit without ever feeling as if the filmmakers are trying to elicit unwarranted pity and sympathy on characters who fail to see how wonderful life can be.

The comedy and Frances generally upbeat nature serve as reminders of how fun youthful life can be. Frances and Sophie pretend fight in early scenes and somehow even with money troubles there’s enough between everyone to get enough drinks for an evening…and then some. The themes coupled with the comedic tone and the film’s aesthetics make Frances Ha a holistic homage to the French New Wave.

And yet, the film is more conventionally dramatic than many French New Wave titles. As the characters drift apart or find themselves in relationships that don’t work out, they lash out and saying things that probably aren’t true. These bouts of anger and frustration built out of finding life took them a place they didn’t plan on going.

Sometimes these new directions are for the best. Frances ends up going back to her old school and working there for a season. As a result, she finds herself coming into contact and helping people she probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise. There’s a beautiful short scene where Frances consoles a girl in a dorm crying by simply sitting with her. Frances may not get what she wants, but it might be what she needs.

By the end of the film, Frances finds the story turned out different. Her dreams and aspirations for a large life are replaced by something far smaller. However, there’s something else there, a different kind of fulfillment, one that might go deeper and be more profound than the aspirations for success and career she dreamed up.

Frances Ha is able to capture the disillusionment of youth, but also leaves with a hopefulness that doesn’t feel over-romanticized or lofty. This world will always leave dreamers disappointed, but the road of disillusionment can lead to a place of contentment. That kind of storytelling takes maturity and an adherence to the truth that doesn’t give the audience or the characters exactly what they want.

© 2013 James Blake Ewing