The Dailies

Word of the Day

Vivify (v., VIV-ih-fiy)

To bring life to something! To make it more intense!

Gif of the Day

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Link of the Day

Frances Ha

Before she was famous as the writer/director of Lady Bird, see Greta Gerwig shine in a—

[/end movie announcer voice] Sorry about that. Dunno where that guy came from.

Frances Ha is the story of someone you will probably like to punch in the face (or at least snap at). This is not an exaggeration. Noah Baumbach’s 2013 movie was basically a star vehicle for Greta Gerwig (his then-new girlfriend), and together they wrote a movie about someone who does not have her [expletive] together. But it’s not like Gary King not having your [expletive] together, where it’s kind of endearing. Frances Halladay is awkward and infuriating for much of the movie.

Frances Ha catches Frances Halladay at 27 but more like 23. She lives in Brooklyn with her best friend Sophie and is an aspiring dancer. She’s not great at relationships. Her relationship with Sophie is playful and full of youth and probably too much like a relationship than a best friendship. Her relationship with her job is…well, she wants more but she’s not great at getting it. But she has Sophie. Until Sophie moves to Tribeca, that is. Sophie has always dreamed of living there and found a great apartment. Frances can’t afford the rent, so she has to find another place. And this is where things start to unravel for Frances.

One video essay about the film described Frances and Sophie as “one character who hasn’t figured out what they want in life and one who has.” The two characters’ friendship is an extension of their youth. And while Sophie is ready to move on into adulthood, Frances still wants to hold onto that teenage feeling and the glow of having someone care and show interest in you freely. Sophie’s arc should be the arc that Frances takes. Frances’ actual arc, though, is much rougher. Frances drifts. I mean, she does that in general, as a muse forever out of touch with reality. Maybe careens is a better word. Frances careens from living situation to living situation, place to place, forever searching for something. She’s endlessly bubbly. Her brain can’t bear to let pain through, let alone verbalize it. She doesn’t quite have the words yet to define what she wants either. Instead, we see the cracks in the facade.

A dinner party at the middle of the movie is the lynchpin (note: adult language):

Ok, for those keeping score at home, this is a) an example of Frances’ personality, b) a definitive “I Want” statement, c) the setup for the back half of the movie, where Frances will go on her own “hero’s journey” of sorts, and d) a summary of what it feels like to be 23. Because really, that’s what Frances Ha is about. It’s about the time when you are (sorry not sorry) a) trying to figure out what adult life is, b) trying to figure out what adult relationships are like, c) trying to figure out what you are, d) trying to figure out what you want, and e) watching as your friends do this alongside you, sometimes out of phase with you, and therefore…leave you. With all this happening, is it any wonder that profundity spews out blended together with trite self-interest?

In a way, Frances Ha is a survival drama, but instead of blackened trees against white snow, we have black-and-white New York City. NYC is a hard place to live. You’re going to have to work your tail off to hang, it’s cold in the winters, and people don’t talk to each other. (And they’re competing with you.) Frances carries basically everything for a day in her backpack because she’s out of the house from morning until late night. Her checkbook is tight, to the point that she shrieks with delight upon getting a tax refund and immediately asks a friend to celebrate over dinner. (In a hilariously cruel twist, Frances’ credit card gets declined because the check hasn’t cleared yet, leaving Frances to run down a few streets looking for an ATM while her friend sits in the restaurant.) Frances moved there from Sacramento, a sleepy capital from a West Coast state, and she goes there when she needs to reset. She then retraces her steps, working at her college for the summer before returning to New York. But she ends in New York. It may not be permanent, but she’s still there, and that counts as a win.

Baumbach threads the needle with this film, allowing us to cheer with Frances while we’re frustrated with her. We desperately want to see her mature and grow up because she’s a sweetheart who can make everything better when she’s around. But we also get annoyed by how out-of-step she is with literally everyone and society, how she can’t let go of the past, and doesn’t understand how to put one foot in front of the other properly. She can dance, but she can’t move forward.

In the end, it’s dance where Frances has her biggest realization and change. It’s not what we’d expect. After ninety minutes of a character who is verbal and present and Tigger, the growth in Frances (after the singular moment of crisis) is told quietly, in a few scenes with minimal/no dialogue. Even when she’s speaking, Frances is more restrained. When she has a moment with Sophie at the end of the film, there’s a hard-fought happinesatisfaction to it. Frances is still Frances. She’s still a bit of a klutz at life. But she’s getting there.

Of all the movies featured this week on The Dailies, Frances Ha is likely to be the most divisive. It’s such a specific movie, capturing a particular type of person at a particular age in a particular city in a particular way. That way may not be your cup of tea or craft beer. But get past the awkwardness and style and you’ll find a detailed, loving portrait of someone trying to figure out who they are, and that’s something anyone can relate to. It’s especially good as a picture of millennials (particularly urban millennials) trying to grow into what they will be.

When watching the film, you get the sense that Gerwig isn’t really acting. She is, of course. But we get the sense that there’s a large part of her on the screen. Gerwig was originally from Sacramento and trained as a dancer before becoming an actress. Frances’ parents are Gerwig’s real parents. Gerwig gives an amazingly good performance, both carrying the film and creating a character who seems very human but off. Of course she became a star after this movie. It’s evident from the start.

Frances Halladay, though? We’re not as sure about her. And that’s fine. She is, as she states, “not a real person yet.” But we love her. We love seeing her grow. Whenever we do, we recognize ourselves, our past, our awkward steps towards looking less terrified as an adult. We know that we’re unfinished just like Frances, and hopefully we’re moving in the right direction too. Frances Ha leaves us with a mixture of empathy and a kick in the pants. Isn’t that what most of us need anyway?

TagsMoviesFrances HaGrowing upNew York CityRelationships, manGreta GerwigLord of the dance?