Frances Ha Movie Review

Featuring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Grace Gummer, Michael Zegen
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Australian release date: Thursday, 15th August

Reviewer: Karen
Verdict: annoyingly cute

Frances Halladay is a 27-year-old dancer who lives with her best friend Sophie. When Sophie decides to move out (and on), Frances is plunged into a late twenties personal and professional development crisis.

I suspect that the older you are, the less you will like Frances Ha. Refreshing as it is to see a film whose main character is a woman, and a story about love that does not frame marriage as the pot of gold at the end of the fucking rainbow, the struggles of a needy twenty-seven-year-old middle-class WASP to discover some personal insight may annoy the crap out of you. Or not, as the case may be.

It’s a bit Jane Austen-ish, really, this story, if you cut out the marriage plot. Baumbach and Gerwig’s “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory” is modern-day New York, and the dilemma is not finding a husband, but finding a professional and personal niche as an adult. It’s not epic adventure, but the question of what you will settle for is relevant to all women and men, and a valid theme.

Our heroine Frances (Greta Gerwig) is moving on to the next phase of her life – adolescence/college/internships and entry-level jobs are, or should be, in the past. She’s at the quarter-century life crisis, trying to establish her permanency in a dance company, and at the same time facing up to the fact that her long-time bestie and flatmate, Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is leaving her behind.

The film is structured around a number of addresses that Frances occupies, and begins in the apartment she shares with Sophie. A lot is made of their relationship. It’s intense – they joke about being lesbians who don’t have sex – but childish. Each has expectations about boundaries, each withholds true opinions. When Sophie moves on, Frances tries to replace her, but in a well-worn romantic film trope, loved activities like play-fighting are not the same with the newbie.

After avoiding becoming a notch on the belt of new house-mate Lev (Adam Driver), Frances forms a comfortable friendship with third house-mate Benji (Michael Zegen). You know that this is going to be a lifelong thing, but it’s not the main thrust of the story, which focuses firmly on Frances as she struggles with money worries, professional disappointments and personal development.

And boy, does she need to develop personally! She’s at her most relaxed and happy on a visit to the burbs of Sacramento for Christmas with her family. There she doesn’t have to be a grown-up; elsewhere, she seems painfully awkward and downright graceless.

Frances has to “put away childish things” and recognise not only her limitations, but her talents. It’s pretty clear she’ll never cut it as a dancer, but apparently she is a promising choreographer. There’s a lovely payoff to her “settling” for an administration job at the dance company, beyond the salary that finally enables her to get her own apartment: self-respect, creative possibilities and a newly mature regard for Sophie.

The black and white filming (a tribute to someone or other) adds little. Nor, however, does it detract from the light touch of the tale. But I suspect many will find the characters unlikeable, although Greta Gerwig is very watchable, and Cate Blanchett look-alike Mickey Sumner, uglified with bad glasses, almost steals the show as straight man to the needy Frances.

But there are laughs; and I find myself thinking more about Frances Ha than my initial reaction promised. Recommended for hipsters, and not-too-curmudgeonly feminists seeking Bechdel-Test-passing films.

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3 thoughts on “Frances Ha Movie Review”

  1. Greetings, Karen – suspect I’ll settle for your review and give this one a big miss. I hate cutsie-indie, and this sounds suspiciously like it might fit that category (if such a category exists – well, it does now!). Plus, mention ‘hipster’ (I now DETEST that word even more than the bunch of gobblers it describes) or ‘feminist’ and I’m out. Which is not to say I am anti-feminist…it’s the PC guidelines that limit films/literature/songs/art-in-general that shit me.


  2. You might surprise me and yourself and enjoy it! You’re a Woody Allen fan, and there’s more than a hint of homage to Woody here.

    Now I have to take issue with your denigration of hipsters and feminists. The people that I know who might be described (by others, without their consent or even knowledge, or by themselves) as hipsters are, to a person, wonderful. Discounting the possibility that you might be flippantly trying to wind me up (surely you wouldn’t do that…), it’s a bit cavalier to dismiss a whole bunch of folks because of their fashion choices, age group, blah, blah, blah.

    I note that in your sentence about feminism you left out the word “but”. Dude. It’s implied.
    My recommendation for feminists doesn’t mean that the film actively attempted to comply with any “PC guidelines”, and the mild feminist critique that I included is my stance, not the writer/directors’. So to avoid it because of MY perspective would be illogical.

    As I said, I thought about the film more than I expected to, and particularly in regard to the subject matter. It’s a very narrow focus, on Frances’s career, relationships and domicile. She – like Elizabeth Bennet, or Emma Woodhouse – has got a lot to learn about herself and the world before she achieves responsible personhood. The most dramatic thing that happens in Frances Ha is Sophie’s pregnancy and miscarriage, and that happens offscreen – just as the dramatic events in Jane Austen’s works often happen to characters other than the heroine and are merely related in conversations (e.g. Lidia and Wickham’s elopement in P&P, wassername and wassisname’s secret engagement in Emma). Even Frances’s misguided trip to Paris is a washout rather than an adventure.

    So, it’s hardly a hero’s journey, and I don’t think that this script would have got up if it were Frank Ha – and yet, it would be equally relevant to men today. I don’t think the filmmakers were trying to do anything other than tell a personal story that resonated for them, but it’s quite legitimate to bring a feminist perspective to bear on their work.

    Upshot: I reckon you should go and see it and let me know if you curled your lip!


  3. Would I try to wind you up, dudette? Actually, I really wasn’t this time.

    RE: My recommendation for feminists doesn’t mean that the film actively attempted to comply with any “PC guidelines”, and the mild feminist critique that I included is my stance, not the writer/directors’. So to avoid it because of MY perspective would be illogical.

    Of course that would be illogical. Thing is, in your specifically recommending the film to “hipsters” and “feminists of the non-curmudgeonly variety”, it’s a fair take for a reader to assume the film adheres to ideological guidelines (as I put it) that would be compatible with the target audience you’ve identified. Reasonable, surely? My comments on what I call ‘PC guidelines’ limiting works of art in a way I recoil from were general, of course. Thought that was self-evident. How could they be directed at Frances Ha when I haven’t seen it? Clearly, I was making assumptions about the film based on your comments, but I wouldn’t avoid the film because of an element of feminism in your review. Sheesh, I’m not a naive reader – but the assumption I made is not such a big leap!

    Incidentally, if I were to avoid films on the basis of feminist or PC elements (in my terms) in your reviewing, I’d avoid a lot of films you review! And as previously argued, we differ on critical stance in that, unlike you, I aim to review films on their own merits without bringing my own ideologies into the picture (there’s often some ideological bleed, of course, but my ideal is to accept the flick as its own entity and assess it on its artistic merits, sans what I see as personal political interference). But we’ve been through this.

    As for my view of ‘hipsters’ – nothing to do with age. I’m not one of the many old farts who knock GenYers. In fact, I like most young people I meet. Prefer them to yer average baby boomer any day – which of course is a comment that doesn’t bear analysis. Too bad. Sometimes I get sick of being reasonable. Generally speaking, my aversion is to cliques of any sort. And I have always held poseurs, trendies and faddists in contempt. Hipsters are a target of mine because they’re just another tribe that prides themselves on being “different” (read superior), yet are shackled to an identikit themselves. Pah! Bah humbug, etc. You’re free to embrace ’em – but I’m not gonna. And yep, I routinely “dismiss a whole bunch of folks because of their fashion choices” – always have, always will. I ain’t the only one. You know the POV Ray Davies adopts in Dedicated Follower Of Fashion? Well, I identify with that. Nature of the beast: I’m an iconoclast and an outsider. There are a few of us – I’m not quite alone – out here lurking in the shadows. Oh, and down with all yuppies. Ah, that feels better.

    Still think I’m gonna wait for Frances to show up on SBS or DVD/Bluray.


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