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Frances Ha (2013)

November 30, 2014

frances-ha-posterFrances Halliday (Greta Gerwig) is a socially awkward, self-aware adult living in Brooklyn, the mecca of young adults still figuring out their lives. At 27, Frances is a struggling artist—modern dancer to be exact, whose only stability in life seems to be her best friend Sophie (Mickey Summer). The two live like partners doing nearly everything together or within close vicinity to one another. But soon after, Sophie reveals that she intends to move out so that she can live in her dream neighborhood with another roommate which shocks the slightly co-dependent Frances. Sophie further jolts Frances’ life when Sophie’s relationship with her boyfriend Patrick begins to blossom into something more serious dissipating the girl’s time together. Their drifting friendship, along with Frances’ questionable career path, leads Frances on a journey of self-actualization and growing maturity.

Frances Ha became one of the most hyped films of 2013. Nearly every year-end list I read at the time, including a recent “top Netflix pick” list, all boasted how Frances Ha is basically a gem among stones. It’s supposedly a film so great that any average movie goer will enjoy it upon watching. How anyone sat through Frances Ha and could actually say that they passionately loved it is beyond me. As an avid fan of Lena Dunham and her series “Girls,” I am poised as a prime candidate that would adore Frances Ha. In fact, I share multiple commonalities with Frances; a late 20-something attempting to rise within the art/humanities world all by myself while living in a big city. Yet, I couldn’t manage to relate to any of Frances’ struggles or empathize with her in any way.

Still from Frances Ha

One night, while Frances is hanging with her new roommates Lev (Adam Driver) and Dan (Michael Esper), a partner of Lev’s tells Frances that she looks older, “like a lot older but less like grown up.” Dan furthers the back-handed compliment by saying “but like you don’t have your shit together.” This encounter makes Frances more self-aware of her status within the adult world keeping her self-conscious and asking others does she look older than she is. Although Frances is pushing 30, she is unable to keep a steady income, a place to live, or a sustainable relationship; not at the fault of any external issues, but all brought on by her own ignorance and laziness. Similar to the likes of Llewyn Davis in the Coen Brothers’ equally over-hyped drama Inside Llewyn Davis last year, Frances’ poor choices and lack of redeeming qualities makes her difficult to truly align with.

The saving grace of Frances Ha is director and co-writer Noah Baumbach’s masterful capturing of New York and Greta Gerwig’s undeniable adorableness in soft yet striking tones. Baumbach shoots the film in pristine, nostalgia inspired black and white. Frances Ha’s visual template comes off as a coalition of Manhattan’s homage to New York, mixed with Truffaut’s ode to Jeanne Moreau and 1990’s American independent cinema. Yet, after discovering that Baumbach not only co-wrote the film with its lead actress, Gerwig, but he is also in a relationship with her, I began to understand why I felt Frances was so shallow and poorly developed. Baumbach and Gerwig handle Frances with kid gloves, never giving her anything too harsh to handle or deal with. Therefore, Frances’ struggles aren’t entirely warranted because they are results of self-sabotage that is aided by the comfy cushion of her parents support.


Ultimately, I feel that Baumbach’s admiration of Gerwig, similarly to those who hail this film in such high esteem, hinders Frances Ha. Instead of focusing on Frances’ slow but gradual change from within, the film focuses on moments of her life. In fact, I felt slightly blindsided by her evolution into a woman by the end which felt rushed and transparent. Overall, Frances just feels contrived, a character whose contradictions are bemusing. She’s a person who doesn’t pick up on social cues too easily and lacks genuine humor. “Lev didn’t laugh at any of my jokes” she remarks to Sophie. He and I both.

There are two ways your viewing experience of Frances Ha can go. Either you will find Frances quirkily adorable and lovely, or you will find her painfully annoying. I’m a member of the latter camp.  I found it furiously frustrating to watch Frances constantly put her foot in her mouth and make silly mistakes all under the guise that it’s ok because she’s “cute.” Frances Ha’s weak story, underdeveloped characters and blasé attitude made for a film that barely captures universal appeal, instead appealing to a small niche audience. Gerwig definitely brings a charm that draws what little appreciation I had for Frances, but I was indifferent to her character, and furthermore the film, the entire time.

AVOID IT. And watch better small niche films on Netflix.  

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