Criterion Month – How ‘Frances Ha’ Helped me Navigate my Twenties

Since first watching Frances Ha as a junior in college, nearly every person I know has related to it in one way or another. Though, upon revisiting Frances and her story now as a college graduate, what left the most profound impact on me wasn’t her relatability as a person but rather the strength and unwavering hope she possesses. The hope that helps her lift herself up after each struggle she maneuvers through, whether it be from failure or just plain unfortunate situations she has to endure.

Frances, a 27-year-old woman navigating her way through life in New York City, struggles like it’s her job, and in a tragically coincidental way, a job is one of the many things that she is grappling to secure. I’m sure every college graduate hopes they come out of those long four years with a job. They bring financial stability, reassurance that you’re doing things right, and a clear sense of direction. However, this is the reality, and it’s one that Frances tackles as well as myself and many, many others.

Though it’s been years since Frances graduated from Vassar, she is facing the eternal post-grad struggle of trying to find her place in the world as a twenty-something. And Frances? She’s got all the problems that come with that title: she’s “undateable” as her roommates remind her, she’s struggling to maintain her friendship with her best friend Sophie, her employment is trying at best as she makes little money as an apprentice at a dance studio and – in classic Greta Gerwig fashion – she is struggling to pay her rent.

Unlike my first viewing of this movie, Frances’ relatability is no longer as gleeful as it initially was when I was able to pinpoint a character I felt was written by someone who had been following me, but instead is a relatability that is comforting and reassuring, as my own doubts and struggles have been weighing heavily on my mind.

This time around, France’s failures, rather than her electric personality, hit a little too close to home. On top of everything else that seems uncertain in Frances’ life, and while our story’s heroine is upbeat and joyous, there’s also a sharp and piercing loneliness within Frances. But what I love about this film that I didn’t appreciate the first time is that Frances’ sadness and persistent loneliness isn’t the feeling that you take away once the movie has ended. Rather, it’s her journey that ultimately ends with feelings of uninterrupted joy that remain with you once the movie has concluded.

What seems to be a universal relatability of Frances Ha isn’t strictly contained in her failures or her triumphs, but the fact that she can have both. She is consistently embarrassing herself, but she also travels to Paris without a care in the world. She is flawed but doesn’t give in, and instead chooses to pick herself up, even when questioning if she can make a life in doing what she has dreamed of.

In a 2014 interview with Vice, Greta Gerwig describes the pivotal scene toward the end where Frances finds herself choreographing a dance routine and describes how the release technique used in the dance includes a heavy amount of falling and how you use the momentum of the fall to get yourself back up. While Gerwig comments how Frances herself is visible in the choreography because she is clumsy, but also speaking as someone who cannot dance for her life, I think it’s more of the fact that Frances falls as well, but just like in the dance, she gets herself back up.

That’s where the magic in this movie really is. Like Frances, I’m incessantly thinking about my future, and by thinking I mostly mean worrying. Similarly, I find myself in Frances in that she’s still trying to figure her life out, and more importantly, shows that it’s ok to be still trying to figure your life out regardless of what stage you are at in it. And again, rewatching Frances Ha as a college graduate and someone who is trying to find her place in the world, wondering if I’m doing even one single thing right, watching Frances fail and continue on reignited a hope in me that I thought had permanently vanished. I don’t just feel more hopeful because of Frances Ha and its lead, but her humour, tragedy and quirkiness. 

Frances Ha is relatable, not in an overdone or cliched way, but relatable in that you feel heard and you see yourself in Frances throughout stages of your life, showing that you can even come of age in your twenties. The world keeps revealing its true self to her but she continues to be resilient in achieving her dreams and trying to be happy, even at any cost.

Life looks nicer after watching Frances Ha, because Frances isn’t likeable; she’s lovable and she’s real, though not because she succeeds, but because she fails. And while it’s very easy to get lost in a narrative you identify so strongly with, Frances Ha shows that while you can relate to its heroine’s troubles, there is also a light at the end of the tunnel. And she unashamedly likes things that look like mistakes, proving that there is hope for dreamers and those who don’t always get it right at their first try.


You can find Frances Ha on Criterion here. You can also watch it on the Criterion Channel


by Lauren Garczynski

Lauren Garczynski is from Cleveland, Ohio and is a proud recent graduate of Kent State University’s public relations program. She’s passionate about politics, twin peaks, film, cats and Audrey Hepburn. Her favorite movies include The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Moonrise Kingdom and anything directed by Sofia Coppola and Xavier Dolan. Find her on Twitter: @laurgarc

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