Frances Ha (2013)

Frances Ha (2013)

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She'd found the comedy door buzzer. It amused her.
She’d found the comedy door buzzer. It amused her.

Twitter Plot Summary: “Undateable” Frances struggles to find her way in life, her dreams seemingly unachievable.

Five Point Summary:

1. Housemate heaven. It’s clearly not going to last.
2. Frances really does talk a lot.
3. And the best friend’s off to Japan!
4. Some moping.
5. Frances Ha!

Frances is a dancer, although to be fair that doesn’t last very long. She also has a best friend, Sophie, who she doesn’t talk to much because Frances disapproves of her chosen partner. Meanwhile Frances has had to move in with a couple of guys and the running joke between them all is that Frances is undateable. And this you are welcomed to the world of Frances Ha, where not much happens and dreams aren’t achieved – because life has a nasty habit of getting in the way.

The fact almost nothing happens of any consequence, other than Frances constantly moving apartments, is inconsequential itself. Frances deals with the breakdown of her relationship (which seems to happen on a technicality and a misunderstanding, of all things), the subsequent breakdown of the relationship with her best friend, and the fact her career isn’t going exactly to plan all in quick succession. So essentially all of the things that tend to afflict us mere mortals. She’s stuck at that midpoint in her mid-20s, and literally everything seems to start going wrong at about the same time. Via a winning performance from Greta Gerwig, Frances has to find some sense of direction and her place in the world, no matter how small that place might be in the grand scheme of things.

When a woman steals another woman's lip gloss, it gets real.
When a woman steals another woman’s lip gloss, it gets real.

Shot in black and white, director Noah Baumbach is basically presenting us with a quintessential art house film, heavily influenced by French cinema in almost every respect. Yet this is also a tale set in New York and subsequently owes a debt, whether intended or otherwise, to Woody Allen. I get the distinct impression that it was indeed intended, partly because of the setting and partly because of how Frances is characterised – she’s clearly a Woody Allen archetype transposed to a different filmmaker’s production. The particular foibles of the resident New Yorker are put under the microscope in the form of Frances. She agonises over paying for a charge on a cash machine/ATM (in part because of her general money troubles), she laments her career prospects when she has to take work as a waitress to make ends meet, and she laments finding herself metaphorically trapped between the cracks in the pavement. That’s a whole lot of lamenting, right there.

Narratively the latter half of the film struggles as Frances and best friend Sophie go their separate ways, although one could argue that co-writers Gerwig and Baumbach did that deliberately to emphasise the malaise that Frances finds herself in. She mopes around for quite a while after that, even more directionless than she was previously. Ultimately it is a coming of age tale, albeit one that applies to someone in their mid-20s as opposed to the typical teenage stereotype. There are laughs to be had, there is melodrama to be had. Thankfully it all balances out, without ever lapsing into parody or depressing its audience. Ultimately Frances herself may be frantic, frenetic and at times completely barmy – that whole “undateable” thing coming to the fore – but she is also endearing and, if you can stomach her, a fun character to be around.

Score: 4/5

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