The title character’s confession ‘I’m not a real person yet’ is a line many twenty-somethings can identify with. Escaping the security blanket of further education and entering into the wilderness that is being a grown-up is simultaneously a time full of excitement, opportunity, disappointment and cruelty.
Frances Ha is a whimsical and charming representation of this transitional period in our lives. 27-year-old aspiring dancer Frances doesn’t really have a proper job, nor a proper apartment and as a self certified ‘undateable,’ her only real constant in life appears to be her beloved best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Despite the film’s early heart-warming scenes of female friendship (which are admittedly all too rare in film), Sophie soon outgrows Frances’s directionless ‘I’m not messy, I’m just busy’ attitude, trading their play fights and cigarettes out their window in Brooklyn for an expensive apartment in Tribeca and a banker boyfriend. The film then watches Frances drift through her own life in New York, a city portrayed as being both buoyantly fun, yet cut-throat, with the harsh realities of $4000-a-month China Town apartments and dead end jobs strikingly present.
The subject matter of young, privileged, white girls finding their identities in New York has obviously generated comparisons to Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls. Yet unlike the frequently deplorable characters in Girls, one can’t help but fall for Frances, in all her clumsy, clueless, self-deprecating glory. Greta Gerwig brings spirit and charm to the role, managing to play the socially awkward, disorganised, dinner-party-disaster Frances without crossing into nauseating, brat territory. Her quirks and flaws are humorous and endearing but mostly, human.
Gerwig triumphs as a model for modern feminism, having recently been asked in an interview how she felt about being the film’s director Noah Baumbach’s muse, she perfectly responded: ‘Well, I’m okay with the term muse as long as you acknowledge the muse wrote the script, too.’ Unlike the overt sex scenes and frequent nudity in Girls and its predecessor Sex and the City, Gerwig stands apart from her contemporaries by showing a disinterest in the themes of sex and love in her films. Sex is notably absent in Frances Ha, which explores the looser definitions of romance and love in terms of friendship instead. There are many moments that could allow the title character to fall into a sexual romance, but Gerwig feels there is much more to making a film about a woman than presenting her sexual relationship with a man. The lack of sex is not as you may imagine, twee or schmaltzy, the result instead is a witty, fun and innovative representation of a young woman’s life, where the locations, namely various boroughs in New York and Paris, are the subject of romanticisation, not the characters.
Frances’s 48 hour jaunt in Paris makes more than a subtle nod to French New Wave cinema, and the film’s cinematographer Sam Levy was clearly inspired by the production style of the New Wave films of the 60s, choosing to use a small crew, minimal equipment and shooting on a humble Canon 5D digital camera instead of more traditional filming techniques. Levy and Baumbach’s brilliant decision to shoot the film in black and white also produces one of the most gorgeous portraits of New York City since Woody Allen’s glorious vision of ‘Manhattan’, of whom is clearly a large source of inspiration for the film makers.
Yet aside from all of its external comparisons, I urge viewers to enjoy Frances Ha for what it really is; not a feature length episode of Girls or a neo-Annie Hall, but a hilarious, adorable and thoroughly unique representation of finding ones identity in the modern metropolis. A brilliant cast led by Greta Gerwig, beautiful cinematography and the stunning backdrop of New York City make for a wonderful film you’ll struggle not to fall for.
Frances Ha is available to buy on DVD or stream on Netflix now.
By Kitty Malton