Frances Ha

May 26, 2013 1 Comment

Frances Ha is a remarkable film about an (ostensibly) unremarkable young woman literally attempting to dance her way into the cold, hard adult world.

Of course, this “unremarkable” young woman (Frances) is the fetchingly mesmorizing Greta Gerwig.    Her beckoning world (created by director Noah Baumbach) is New York, shot by Baumbach in black and white, rendering it more beautiful and unattainable.

This is a film where form IS content.  Director Baumbach and co-writer Gerwig  are superb collaborators (and a romantic couple in  ‘real” life).

The  movie  appears deceptively simple, relating the “predictable ”  tale  of an idealistic young woman’s inability to adapt to the demands of adult relationships and career choice, despite brutal evidence that her current course is a failure.  Frances is sweet and optimistic, but seems clueless to the spiraling decline  of her life prospects.  “I’m  not a real person yet,” she laments as she fails in yet another arena.  We are presented with a 27 year old woman who is not yet a “real” person, dancer, waitress or girlfriend, vying for the “arrested development” award of the year as she seems to make one bad decision after another.  What does she really want?  What is she capable of doing?  Is she really “undateable”?    Why should we care about her?  Why doesn’t she just annoy us?

Because, there is more to the story.

Frances, like the film itself, is not optimally  accessible without the deeper knowledge that Baumbach conveys directly with frequent references to French New Wave cinema and the works of Truffaut and Goddard.   Maybe that’s not fair.  Maybe Frances should be knowable based solely upon what is available to us on the surface.  Films like this remind us that knowing is better.  For example,  there is a scene where, despite mounting disappointment, Frances make a seemingly clueless ebullient run/dance through the streets.    However, if we register the accompaniment of David Bowie’s  “Modern Love” and then recall Leos Carax’s use of the SAME  song with Denis Lavant cavorting through the streets in “Bad Blood” (Mauvais Sang), the scene becomes more poignant, and we begin to question how clueless Frances truly is:

“Never gonna fall for

Modern Love Walks beside me

“Modern Love Walks on by”


” There’s no sign of life

It’s just the power to charm

I’m lying in the rain

but I never wave bye bye.”


In addition to the music,  Baumbach’s  filming in black and white echoes the romanticized feel created by Woody Allen’s black and white masterpiece “Manhattan,” and accentuates the longing that Frances feels for a life in New York, AND the sadness we feel for her as her chances  appear to dwindle.

Why is the film called “Frances Ha”?  I would not risk ruining the touching explanation provided in the film, but once again draw attention to the indirect reference to “Funny Ha Ha” , the Andrew Bujolski film considered to be the first “mumblecore” film, about (you guessed it) twentysomethings struggling with  post-college angst and attempts to delay engagement into conventional adulthood.  Gerwig reports having seen this film several times while she was a student at Barnard and contacted the director.  How could the thematic similarities be coincidence?

I have avoided giving much plot detail/ analysis because of the risk of spoiling the freshness of a first viewing.  I am not contradicting my initial premise that background knowledge is valuable in appreciating the complexity of this wonderfully touching and very smart movie.  Unlike Francis, we do not have to “not know what we know” and don’t have to panic with actually knowing that we don’t know.     Ha!!!!!

by  Jolyn Wagner


Must See Movie of the Week
One Comment to “Frances Ha”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    So which way is it, the way the more hopeful lines that Jolyn quotes indicate or the more pessimistic ones that finish the song?

    Modern love, walks beside me
    Modern love, walks on by
    Modern love, gets me to
    The church on time

    Church on time, terrifies me
    Church on time, makes me party
    Church on time, puts my trust
    In God and man

    God and man, no confessions
    God and man, no religion
    God and man, I don’t believe
    In modern love

    The film takes a stand on the value of modern love. It changes the lives of two young women. For better or for worse? You have to see the film, which is well worth watching. If you think about it, I think you’ll get the point even without any background knowledge of French New Wave cinema, Leos Carax, or Andrew Bujolski, though that knowledge can increase your enjoyment of the film.

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