The transition into adulthood is a rocky milestone with no clear verification. At least it is for our angelic protagonist Frances. Co-Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig herself, the actress plays the film’s central character. A bohemian hipster child of NYC streets, and a heroic icon to emotionally adrift idealist who free willingly dance in public parks. Frances Ha glimpses into the life of a twenty-seven year old, financially crippled young women, rapidly leaving behind her adolescent college years and approaching mid-age.
With the aid of accomplished director Noah Baumbach, the two have forged aesthetically beautiful and abrasive images, replicating classic French cinema’s historically essential works. The film carries a contemporary new wave tone, mirroring the cinematography of films like François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, while still managing to keep in modern times with the inclusion of trendy Apple electronic products. Baumbach has affirmed his talents for hard focused character studies with 2010’s Greenberg and now Frances. While Greenberg focused in on a forty year old meandering and narcissistic house hermit, Frances Ha shares the uplifting story of a women coming into her own and the group of friends she associates with.
Like the David Bowie song attached to a scene of Frances gleefully prancing down unkempt urban streets, the film has a lot to say about “Modern Love” and modern relationships. Notably the way Frances and her social companions go about those relationships. Not being tied down to anything, the occasional sexual fling, and the lack of commitment on anyone’s part, make the complexity of finding a soul mate an awkward process. This goes especially for Frances whose monogamous efforts remain aloof in the midst of a self-reflective existence. Will she find a soul mate? Does it even matter? These kids are in the prime of their life and spending the day reading Freudian theory in the park (Frances reads a lot of books. A lot more than her best friend Sophie, played by Mickey Sumner), working economically unsustainable jobs and managing to pay for dinners using tax refunds are all just part of the daily grind whilst hoping for greener pastures. There’s a certain cynicism to this bunch, but at heart they remain optimist. They’re optimistic about life, love and the future, as they barely float above the poverty level.
I didn’t see Frances Ha alone. Here to weigh in her analysis of the film, is my Great Aunt Laura who carries a specific expertise in the spectrum of cinema and French New Wave culture.
Rob Gabe: Baumbach has cited this as love letter to NYC. Since you love to travel yourself and have a background on almost all the locations (including Paris), what was the experience like revisiting all these places through Frances’ de-saturated world?
Laura Garawski: I see the cities as metaphor in France’s life as she experiments with testing her preconceived ideas related to social interaction, trust, forgiveness, love, acceptance and growth. A kind of social currency. The NYC bohemian life where space is shared communally but announced individually. It’s a device used for incremental transformation. The architecture and various places in NYC represent social climbing and status definition. She rejects and desires simultaneously. Paris is the social currency topic at the dinner table with acquired friends. Her experience in Paris is experiential and starkly different from the possession statement of the wealthy couple. A great pied a terre in the 6th! The existential anxiety reverberates when she is filmed in contrast to the beauty and architectural magnificence of the city of Paris. It is almost as though its energy infuses her with self-knowledge and risk willingness. She begins to absorb and negotiate with herself in order to be free from constraints.
Any nomad who recollects any of the many different locations in Frances Ha is bound to be taken away into an alternate reality. It’s as if our contemporary young adult culture has been dipped and coated by the black and white grit of classic French cinema. From an artistic standpoint, Frances Ha is a wholly original outing with no regards to commercial appeal. Thematically, the film is one of the strongest coming of age stories in recent memory that manages to pack a lifetimes worth of different living arrangements and city adventures within its brief run-time. As the lights came up, I exchanged goodbyes with my screening accomplice and delightful Aunt, threw on David Bowie’s “Modern Love”, took a cab back to 30th Street Station and hopped the train back home. Frances Ha is a wonderfully aimless and thematically intriguing picture. Its overbearing assurance to a meaningful existence among a heap of pessimism on the surface is an inspiration.