“I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.”
I didn’t know much about Frances Ha (2012) other than that it was supposed to be the kind of offbeat, quirky, small girl in a big city type indie fare that I know I’m a sucker for. But the film really stuck with me for more reasons than one, namely Frances herself. It was a bit like a punch to the stomach, but a really soft one that I didn’t quite notice until a while afterwards.
The story fairly is simple: Frances is dumped by her best friend and roommate Sophie, who wants to move to a neighbourhood in NYC that Frances can’t afford. She’s a dancer, but not a particularly successful one. She bounces around places to live, trying to make sense of it all. She goes back to her parents’ place, takes a rash credit-card-paid solo trip to Paris, and winds up working at her old college. It felt to me like the inevitable sequel to every coming-of-age film that nobody really acknowledges. The terrifying limbo of your post-college late twenties out in the real world, when you’re not young enough to be naïve and ‘just starting out,’ but you still haven’t had time to become a real person yet, as Frances puts it. I might only be 19, and still a year away from graduating, but it isn’t difficult to relate to the great stress that I still don’t know who I am and where I want to be.
Frances doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t really know what she’s doing. She’s awkward, kind of ungainly despite being a dancer, and doesn’t really know how to say the right thing when she wants to. It’s a little alienating at first for a protagonist, but the more I got used to Frances’ quirky nuances as a character, the more I realised I was looking at myself. You know, if I was 27, living in New York, and a dancer. But that didn’t really matter. It was like a jarring, kind of scary yet oddly comforting look into my own future. It’s very easy to feel like you’re the only person you know that doesn’t seem to have it all figured out.
Frances dreams big, like we all do, but there’s always an undercurrent of doubt on the audience’s side. In this case, unlike a lot of these kind of films, our doubt isn’t ever really proven wrong. Frances doesn’t really seem to have what it takes to achieve everything she thought she wanted, but for once it’s okay. Where another film might have some revolutionary moment where she gets talent scouted and wins the dance company role of her dreams, Frances Ha ends on a note that you might not get quite what you want in the end. But it isn’t the end; Frances can still find a different kind of happy just doing the best she can, and she still has prospects. It’s a refreshing kind of honesty. She’s still very young (despite how she feels), and she has plenty of time to figure out her place in the world and work to get there. As someone who wants to both pursue a career in the arts and survive in a big city, but who also creates one too many awkward situations and friend-crushes a little too hard, I felt a great affinity with Frances.
My love for Greta Gerwig came into my life like a brick to the face, which is to say, without quite the subtlety that her gorgeous films have graced us. I went from honestly not really knowing who she was to preparing to lay down my life for the woman in about a week, a love which has only grown since also watching her later directorial debut Lady Bird. Both Gerwig’s writing and performance create a wonderfully offbeat portrait of a woman somewhere in the in-between of life that is Frances Ha.
by Megan Wilson
Megan is a 19-year-old northerner currently studying film in London. She likes cats, old musicals, and films about lesbians who don’t die. Her favourite films include Carol, Moonlight, Singin’ in the Rain, and Matilda. Twitter: @bertmacklln