I Like Things That Look Like Mistakes: Frances Ha Film Review

frances-haha
Frances and Sophie

“I should sleep in my own bed,” says Frances, her face shadowed and obscured in a dark room.

“Why?” Another woman is next to her in bed, distracted by the light of her laptop.

“Because I bought it.”

“Stay,” says the woman. Frances smiles. “But take your socks off.”

This scene, set at night, the black and white effect accentuated by the darkness around them comes after a montage that features Frances, the main character, played by Greta Gerwig and Sophie, played by Mickey Sumner. These first snapshots give us every reason to believe that Frances and Sophie are lovers, dancing through the streets of New York City without a care in the world.

But as we soon learn, they are not lovers, but best friends; “basically the same person.” Directed by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha follows a clumsy, spirited, and endlessly endearing 20-something as she struggles to find a place for herself while the world around her—most importantly, Sophie—seems to move around and away from her.

What strikes me the most about this film is the restructuring of a classic romantic comedy; men seem to wander insignificantly and unremarkably in and out of Frances’ life. Her boyfriend at the beginning is quickly forgotten after he asks to move in with her and, instead of responding, answers a call from Sophie with, “Yo, girl! What’s up? Are you drunk? I love you!” She goes on a hilariously awkward date with a guy named Lev that starts with an “Ahoy, sexy!” text message and ends with a new “rich kid” apartment. Sophie’s boyfriend Patch is the “kind of guy who says, ‘I gotta take a leak'” and wears “pre-distressed baseball hats.” And finally, sweet Benji, who calls Frances “undateable” and whose crush on her is obvious, but ignored for the most part by both Frances and the plot itself. Because Benji isn’t the point of this story.

In one of the most touching and profound scenes of the movie, Frances is at a dinner party, drunk (despite originally rejecting the host’s offer by sticking her fingers in her glass when he tried to pour her wine) and philosophizing to a group of mostly sober strangers who appear, by all accounts, much more equipped to take on personhood than our charmingly ridiculous protagonist.

“I want this one moment,” she says, putting a halt to the buzzing conversations around her and awkwardly taking center stage. The moment is one of true connection, in which two people “look across the room and catch each other’s eyes” and without saying anything, feel this overwhelming and unconditional love for this person that allows both people room to exist entirely within themselves as individuals, but also expresses unrelenting affection and companionship for them. Frances’ love for Sophie is unconditional, albeit complicated. Still, it is love.

The movie’s subversion of the traditional romantic comedy celebrates this kind of love and love in all its forms. Soulmates exist, perhaps, but in different people and different ways than we might expect. Frances Ha encourages us to find delight and silliness in our hardships and to feel less alone in them as well. No one can really feel entirely hopeless when Frances, on a first date, says something like, “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.” And despite the fact that Frances’ romantic interests remain undeveloped from beginning to end, the love that winds through this film is undeniable and infectious for viewers and for Frances herself who, as she lets her arms drift up towards the ceiling after pressing them into a door frame, ultimately keeps some for herself.

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