Frances Ha

Frances Ha ★★★★½

Included In Lists:
Criterion Collection - #681
Strong Performances - Greta Gerwig
Ladies and Gentlemen: The Essentials -#57

Many of us were raised with idealistic expectations, an adulthood that would revolve around our deepest of passions, living a life of potential glamour and satisfaction that is neither uncompromising nor restricting. It is as if the world is our playground, the life is simply there waiting for us to be ready and reach our hand out to grab it. That was certainly how I felt during much of my High School years, predicting a life that would deeply artistic and extraordinary, a career in the culinary arts or the music industry that features little to none turbulence; a guaranteed success, an overnight sensation, living the life of an outstanding individual.

Life unfortunately is not that kind, luck certainly is a key aspect of such a high lifestyle and responsibilities are needed to be considered. I was born into a culture that relies on practicality to ensure a sense of security, a fear in falling to the unfavourable conditions of my native country, providing me and my sister to live a life in a country that would alienate us from such struggles. It is a philosophy that becomes more comforting once I reached closer to that inevitable transition to adulthood, lowering my expectations and finally finding a spot where I can reside comfortably on contentment.

Regardless, I still dream and crave the passionate lifestyles of the enduring and unstable artist, those who pursue further even beyond their adult transition, in the hopes of something wonderful to arrive. As I have said, some fall upon luck and would go on to shape the world as we know it, while others fall and would become the flinching examples of life’s pitfalls. Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha is a film that paints the life of a hopeful artist, a woman of portrayed independence but evidently dependent of those around her — particularly her best friend.

Baumbach conveys a lifestyle that many could assume as hipster or pretentious, and through rational eyes, that judgement is valid, but to those just like Frances; it is a strive for validation and actualisation, a youthful drive that could either make or break an individual. It is one that I envy, but simultaneously repel, it is a life constantly in reliant of the charity and shared angsts of others, familiar with the concept of denial and arrogance when it comes to their professional pathways. Unfortunately they live a world that thrives on security, with employment becoming scarce and more demanding, leaving many of the present and future hopefuls constantly and metaphorically on their knees.

To call Frances an archetype would be an unjustified statement, as Baumbach and Greta Gerwig allows the character to exist with empathetic but a unique personality, simple when psychologically dissected, but natural and spontaneous in her interaction with the surrounding world. The sudden abandonment of her best friend and roommate, Sophie, would act as the catalyst to her downfall, a woman who have suddenly lost her safety net, living a life of middle-class poverty and desperation, relying now on many others rather than a single individual.

The world around her cannot entirely be blamed for her position, as it would eventually be revealed the flawed construction of Frances, an ego that constantly requires to be masked, to maintain an image to her peers that conveys a sense of great success and induce a deep sense of awe and envy. Baumbach penetrates the character by revealing her in her most pitiful moments, starving for fulfilment that is constantly denied through unfortunate circumstances or her deep seeded stubbornness. She finds herself thrusted upon poor decisions and worsening financial strains due to her need to be validated and maintain that particular image that she so desperately wants to be defined by.

Much like Frances’ personality, the film itself cannot easily be pinned down, almost spontaneous in its progression and self-admiring in its execution. It has the power to leave one baffled by the pitstops that the protagonists finds herself in, handled in a way that sustains the deep empathetic emotions and themes that linger within such a character, whilst never ceasing to be fascinating and exciting, feeling the youthful rush that runs in Frances’ vessels, bleeding to the atmosphere of the film itself, instilling a personality that is both distinct and inspired. Baumbach demonstrates his adoration for the innovative and embracing attributes of the French New Wave, and the New York homage sensibilities that is commonly derived from Woody Allen, particularly Manhattan. It is a blend of two styles that finds a striking balance, anchored by the cultural positioning of its protagonist, exploring an artistic and hopeful world in a tactic that is fitting to its context.

Clearly the deep involvement of the writing process has allowed Gerwig to depict a layer of truth in her portrayal, placing herself in positions that more or less recalls a familiar experience of her own, thus creating a reaction that feels natural. It is a collaboration that demonstrates a great sense of respect for one another — also it helps that the two are romantically linked — she acts as Baumbach’s muse and key collaborator. Baumbach retains the camera’s focus solely on her, and through great effort of manifesting a seemingly wayward soul, it was a performance that never calls too much on itself to be noticed, with almost every passing moment seemingly as if we were viewing upon a piece of documentary filmmaking rather than an inspired piece of fiction.

Baumbach’s Frances Ha can be seen as a return to form to a more universally driven sense of filmmaking, a central character that is open for diagnosis but emotionally and situationally empathetic, a quality that was unfortunately gaped in his previous film Greenberg; aesthetically layered in an atmosphere that is wonderfully inspired by the director’s idols, whilst shaping itself through contemporary conditions, and fulfilled by the essence of a character that is universally penetrating.

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