Every single moment of our lives are encompassed by three core feelings: regret, melancholy, or hope. Frances Ha takes that idea and bottles it up into an 86-minute black & white treasure of a film that follows a 27-year-old dancer living in New York City trying to figure out how to maneuver through life with those feelings. If you are like me, or Frances, and don’t feel like a real person yet—or you’re just busy, not messy—then you’ll love this film.
We all know Greta Gerwig (probably best from her highly anticipated upcoming Barbie movie; but really it should be from films like Greenberg and Lady Bird) as well as her partner—both in film and life—Noah Baumbach. Baumbach wrote and directed the absolute beauty that is Marriage Story, but as so many of these Monday Movie Clubs go, that’s another movie for another time. I digress. Naturally.
One film that most people probably don’t know Greta Gerwig for is Frances Ha, and we need to change that. She is so natural. So fluid. So at home on-screen with Baumbach’s behind-the-camera direction and script cascading from her mouth, you immediately sink into a place of comfort with Frances Ha. It immediately feels like a person, and a story, that you’ve known your entire life.
Saturday morning feels
Now I have a wife and two small daughters, ages 3 and 4, who are out of town this weekend visiting family. They’ve taken our only car, which leads me to focus on three things: running, finding good take-out food, and watching as many movies as I can before they get home. In traveling this exceptionally unusual journey of uninterrupted time, I was able to finally watch Frances Ha. I watched it at 9 AM on a Saturday morning, a time at which you could argue I’m my most emotionally available. And I watched it for the first time.
With tears filling my eyes once the credits rolled, I walked the 15 feet from my living room couch to my makeshift home office very briskly to immediately begin writing about what I had just watched. The lifetime of hope and joy and disappointment and hurt and unknowing that I just consumed. So yes, I’ve only seen Frances Ha once and yes, it deserves to be written about after just a single viewing.
Baumbach is naturally gifted in his ability to pinpoint almost ineffable feelings and emotions on-screen as is gathered through his filmography as a whole, but most poignantly in both Frances Ha and his first film, 1995’s Kicking and Screaming. Both about the mysterious and daunting idea of a future in which nothing is certain but told in exceptionally distinctive ways.
Frances Ha uses the energy and limitless possibilities of New York City to adhere to those feelings every breathing moment of the film. A city and a world in which almost anything is achievable, evidenced by a later scene in the movie in which Frances has dinner at a sort-of friend’s house only to discover that said friend has a spare apartment in Paris and their life seems that of a different reality.
Yet, in this world that offers so much, again, the feelings of regret, melancholy, and hope are inescapable. No matter where Frances goes—which includes Paris for an expeditious 48 hours or back to her college to work the summer camps—those feelings follow, oddly defining her 27th year of life on this planet.
Frances Ha channels old film
The artistic direction of the movie is intentional at the very least. With songs like “Everyone’s A Winner” by Hot Chocolate and “Modern Love” by David Bowie, the emotional power of watching Frances skip through the bustling city excitedly on her way to a new apartment with new roommates or, reading on a bench in Paris not entirely sure why she decided to even travel, possess an extra level of gravity.
The black and white seduces you into believing that the life Frances is living is blissfully hopeful at its core—even if it isn’t. It’s artsy. It’s like an old film. It’s what you want to be a part of. And the cast is beyond compelling in their roles as in-and-out friends, potential lovers, and lifelong accomplices.
Adam Driver even makes a short-lived appearance as a rich art kid riding around New York on motorcycles! This kicks off the magical and marvelous relationship of Noah Baumbach and Adam Driver—which is wild to think about, considering all the incredible pieces of dramatic art they’ve expelled into the world together.
Frances Ha is able to dissect and stitch back together the ornate nature of true friendship and what it means to, in her words, be the “same person but with different hair.” Unpacking that type of relationship allows for the further dissection of each distinct type of friendship on the relationship ladder. The inherent frivolity of youth and the demanding responsibility in adulthood that friendship endures.
The script treats this idea with such grace and care that you feel like you’ve always known these deep realizations about life—even if you are just discovering some of them at 9 AM on a Saturday. Whether it be growing out of seasons of life, friendships, living spaces, or even cities, the discomforts and pristine pleasures of every moment of those actions is captured in this truly great film. At the end of the day, the places our minds go when thinking of regret, melancholy, and hope can be hard to leave, and much like Frances herself I have trouble leaving places.
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Monday Movie Club 'Frances Ha' ReviewMonday Movie Club 'Frances Ha' Review
- Authentic, artistic, and attractive storytelling style
- Will melt any heart made of ice, stone, or hardened material of any sort
- Short run time allows for a quick watch
- Artistic style can feel juvenile if you don't fully buy in
- Not enough Adam Driver...but that's the case with any movie