Aug 072013

Frances Ha

Ah, to be young. More specifically, to be 27. You’re expected [to some degree] to have your own home (at least a decent rental), a real career and to be in a relationship that should result in engagement and marriage. In other words, your life should be sorted. Frances Ha introduces us to a beautiful, fun and bright young woman who at the age of 27 has none of the above. And it doesn’t even matter. Review of Frances Ha after the jump.

Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in an apartment in New York with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). They’ve even been accused of being in a lesbian relationship due to how happy they appear to be with their living arrangement and their friendship in general. Frances wants to be a dancer and make a career out it, but unfortunately, work is sparing, even at her position as an understudy. To deflate her content state of being just that bit further, Sophie wants to move out, fulfilling that checklist (mentioned above) that solidifies her as a fully fledged adult. Frances however, just wants to be a dancer; she has no interest in settling down nor surrendering to a complete state of adulthood. To her it seems that everyone around her is losing their sense of humour and excitement.She isn’t trying to stay young, she just wants a career she can be passionate about and friends to help enjoy life with.

The mid-twenties mid-life crisis is the worry before the worry. The last film that attempted to conquer such a topic was last year’s Any Questions For Ben?. Why did it fail when Frances Ha succeeded? Because Any Questions For Ben? looked at a selfish, uninteresting and smug protagonist who had more money than he could spend. How many people could really respond or relate to him or even care about any “crisis” he experienced?  Frances, is a grounded, friendly and fun person who wants to be a dancer and wants to fit in but social expectations and paradigms prevent her from doing so. The film nor our kind protagonist beg for sympathy nor hint at it, in fact director/co-writer Noah Baumbach and writing partner Gerwig herself never succumb to emotional manipulation or genre convention. Frances Ha could be considered above any categorisation, its story and protagonist live and breathe without any implications.

As well as defying convention and categorisation, Frances Ha accomplishes the one thing almost every studio released film this year has not, which is great characters. Gender is secondary in this story, there’s never at any point that Frances is forced into a relationship or never is it addressed that she needs to find a man or partner. Like theorist Jacques Lacan said:

Obsessional does not necessarily mean sexual obsession, not even obsession for this, or for that in particular; to be an obsessional means to find oneself caught in a mechanism, in a trap increasingly demanding and endless

Frances is an obsessional and her mechanism is dance and acceptance, whereas everyone else’s trap is a constant reassurance of financial and emotional security. Every supporting character in Frances Ha is desperate for genuine happiness, yet only Frances truly expresses it in every frame with her movements, expression and energetic nature.

As the reviewer who rambles on about female characters being poorly written in almost every second review he writes, its nice to be reminded by a film like Frances Ha as to why I always notice it in everything I see. It is because I believe quite simply, individuals are individuals. Why should Frances need a man? Why would she have to bear cleavage to remind us of her gender? She doesn’t, nor do we need the reminder. Stories are only truly strengthened when the emphasis on a character’s appearance is to accentuate their personality and perception of the world and it’s inhabitants, rather than differentiating genders. See most other films designed around a female protagonist and you’ll see that it is her body and sexuality will be one of the first things addressed in film. Frances Ha knows better than that.

Shot in beautiful black and white giving a life and authenticity to Frances’ surroundings, Frances Ha is a funny, simple and effective film that doesn’t respond, recognise nor adopt genre or cliché.


By Chris Elena

The Facts

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer(s): Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Runtime: 86 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: August 15 2013