27-year-old Frances Handley (Greta Gerwig), five years out of Vassar, is trying to define her identity, to progress in her chosen vocation as a modern dancer and attain the adulthood society expects of her. None of these tasks is easy. Frances is a New York woman who wasn’t born in New York and doesn’t really have an apartment there; she apprentices for a dance company though she’s not really a dancer; she is officially earning quite a good living while for the Manhattan standards she is just a step above a bag lady.
When her boyfriend asks her to move in with him Frances declines, the reason being she’s inseparable from her flatmate-cum-soulmate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of Sting), the bff since college. As far as Frances is concerned, “We’re the same person, with different hair.” Her fond illusions of togetherness are torpedoed, however, right afterwards when Sophie announces that she’s moving to another (read: more posh) apartment in TriBeCa. Worse, she’s going out with a guy named Patch who, even if as dull as ditchwater, is on a fast track career in a bank. Sophie and Patch plan a marriage. This comes as news to Frances, who now realizes what Sophie was doing on her mobile phone all day. Has their platonic relationship withered while she wasn’t looking, to occupied by everyday struggle? What Frances is supposed to do with herself – grow up or what?
Imagine a contemporary black-and-white movie, a modern comic fable that explores New York, friendship, class, ambition, failure, and redemption, a sample of a comedy of Manhattan manners. If it makes you think of the monochrome Woody Allen films such as Manhattan, or Stardust Memories you are receiving the right vibes.
Frances Ha doesn’t feature any crime or sex scenes (although of course the characters talk about sex a bit, they live in New York after all), there’s no real romance or at least one solid car chasing which is as good as a kiss, sometimes even better. Still you get plenty of quiet, everyday drama with a loopy streak. In order to indicate that it is an ambitious movie about real American artists the director also included a short Paris sequence – scenic but not horribly needed or important. Still there’s nothing more cultural than Paris, even if the heroine (and the viewers) hardly had the time of her life there, right?
Frances, neither an exceptionally gifted dancer nor an especially clever girl, is an urban Bedouin, switching her temporary abodes, each signaled by printing her new address on the screen. She does so for financial reasons and because she hates being alone. She believes pursuing her dreams will finally pay off even if the harsh reality corrects her only too often.
I liked Frances although sometimes she was getting on my nerves – I think here mainly about her complete lack of adult self-awareness. As it was mentioned by one of her casual acquaintances she looked older than 27, her real age, but she acted as if she was actually way younger. For most of the movie Frances couldn’t and didn’t try to define her goals, let alone synchronize them with her wishes and needs. At one point she rejected a perfectly reasonable job offer because, in her opinion, it wouldn’t further her dancing career and then she was forced to go back to her college in order to work as a summer camp minder and a part-time waitress.
Also the amount of hypocrisy among those young, educated NY socialites left me often chuckling silently. I mean here especially those scenes during which somebody was pretending that they were taking Frances feelings into consideration while they were doing anything but. Frances herself was guilty of such a behaviour as well – no matter how many times she used that threadbare, meaningless phrase ‘I love you’ she meant something else. Or nothing at all.
Finally the soundtrack. It was great. It kept the whole movie alive, telling a story within a story and including such pearls of pop as “Every 1’s a Winner” by Hot Chocolate, “Rocks Off” by The Rolling Stones, “Chrome Sitar” by T.Rex or “Modern Love” by David Bowie. When I come to think about it I would like to buy a CD with all of these.
A nice, intelligent and quite funny movie for a quiet evening. You might have to tolerate a certain amount of narrative drift but the soundtrack and those Paris shots will compensate for it in a very satisfactory manner.