After attempting to watch Frances Ha on two previous occasions, I finally succeeded in watching it in its delightful entirety a couple of nights ago. My first viewing was spoiled by the technological irregularities that accompany unpredictable downloads; my second watch came to a steady halt when I just sort of ‘gave up’ on the film in the company of my bored and slightly perplexed parents. But, my third attempt was one of those seamless and perfect viewings that seemingly emerge from nowhere, but at that point when you least expect it and most need it.
Of course, Frances Ha had long been on my radar as a ‘hipstery-girl’ film beloved of girls and guys of that so-called ilk. In that case then, I started watching the film in that detached mode characteristic of my sceptical self, and initially found Greta Gerwig, in her role as the eponymous Frances, to be phenomenally irritating. Yet, on that particular dark Thursday evening, after a long day at work, Frances Ha grabbed me in that way that I do not generally expect films to do. Exhausted and with a bowl of pesto pasta on my lap, I finally set out to watch Frances Ha from start to finish, and what a treat it was.
Without going into the specifics of the plot, Frances Ha is fresh in a deceptively simple way. Shot in glimmering monochrome, taking in gorgeous streetscapes of New York and Paris, one is immediately reminded of Woody Allen’s dazzling ode to NY: Manhattan. But, rather than Allen’s egocentric, male, New York neurotic as the protagonist, this is Gerwig as Frances from Sacramento: an awkward but spirited dancer who is just sort of doing her best in whatever way she can. Frances is clumsy, messy and flawed in that ‘real girl’ way that we have to come to associate with the characters of Lena Dunham’s Girls. However, unlike the girls of Girls, Frances never sinks into self-pity or apathy, but keeps on going, keeps on dancing, both literally and metaphorically, eventually proving to herself – never mind everyone else – that she can, in fact, sort out her own life in just the way that she sees fit.
Frances, much like Peggy Olsen, is one of those rare film or TV female characters whose arc is not solely propelled by romantic relationships. Their stories are bigger than that. And while they are certainly affected and moved by romance and the prospect of love, it is not their driving force or single desire. In many ways, I feel that the character of Frances could just as easily have been a stereotypical cinematic guy: the unmade bed, the unwillingness to commit, the lack of career direction, the awkward dinner table conversation-making, and particularly, the centrality of friendship in her life, are tropes and gags generally reserved for the ‘Bromance’ or ‘slacker’ movie genres, starring the likes of Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell or Jonah Hill. In such a way then, Frances Ha illuminates certain aspects of modern women’s lives that are rarely attended to in pop culture, ie. the closeness of female friendship, uncertainty, immaturity, failure, doubt and ultimately, enthusiasm. Finally, here’s a film with a female lead that does not follow that white, middleclass, feminised trajectory of ‘having it all’, but more so, this is a film about having just something, and making that something your own.