Frances Ha

Frances Ha ★★★★★

"I don't know, I don't know that I believe anything that I'm saying."

I watched Frances Ha again the other night because Alice still hadn't seen it and I couldn't stop talking about it after seeing it on the big screen at the Brattle. I still love it of course; the only thing I really have to add to my previous mindless adoration of the movie is that watching it on film and then on disc at home in such close proximity really gave me an appreciation for how different the two media look, even with something so unspectacular as this little indie comedy.

What I do have to offer this time around is a brief structural analysis of what I see as the film's two primary themes (really basic stuff, don't get excited). I realized while I was brainstorming that this is going to involve what many people would probably consider spoilers (I'll be mentioning the ending), but to me Frances Ha isn't really a spoil-able film. I don't watch it because I'm wondering if she'll get back together with Sophie or whether Darkseid is finally going to face off against Thanos, I watch it to spend a little more time with the character. But I realize others might not feel the same way, so if you're worried about having Frances Ha spoiled for you then you might want to turn back now.

Friendship & Making Decisions

Friendship is the obvious one because the film opens on Frances and Sophie play-fighting and it more or less revolves around their relationship, but Frances Ha is also a movie about making decisions and how these two aspects of life play into our identity (these also play into the film's crisis of sincerity). But it's not simply a movie about friends who start off together, have some sort of conflict, and then are reunited. It shows us how in order to truly be good friends we have to learn to be ourselves and make our own decisions. We have to learn to be alone before we can be together.

The film starts with Frances and Sophie clearly being best friends (they're comfortable sleeping together regularly without any sexual tension). Then it introduces the seed of doubt: Sophie wants to move out after Frances has decided not to move out. They're not on the same page. This also gives us an idea of Frances's decision-making abilities: she doesn't so much decide not to move out and live with her boyfriend as she simply doesn't decide to move (Dan even seems to have to tell her she said "no"). She just doesn't make the decision. She eventually moves in with Benji & Lev, where she starts to learn to live without Sophie. But she's still unable to support herself, and when she loses her place in her dance troupe and has a falling out with Sophie over her growing attachment to Patch she finds herself with nowhere to go but back home.

After a bit of recovery time at home, she moves back to New York to live with a fellow dancer. At this point we also see her finally making decisions, but always bad ones. But while she's no longer relying on others for support, she also hasn't found her own place to exist yet, and decides on a whim to take a trip to France. This is the ultimate bad decision—she even pays for the trip on a new credit card. Here she finally hits rock bottom, and to add insult to injury she does it in a place many others would count among their favorite places in the world (she's even staying at her friend's vacation home). She decides to go back to college to get a job and try to support herself on her own. Back to square one, but at least she's making positive decisions for herself.

The breaking point for Frances in terms of her relationship with Sophie comes when Sophie stays the night in her dorm room and then leaves without saying goodbye (she just leaves a note; Frances looking at her bare feet seems to visualize this sense of rock bottom). After this point she finally starts living for herself and making good decisions. (taking a desk job with the dance troupe in order to earn some money while working on her choreography). When Sophie shows up to one of her recitals she finally has the magical moment she talks about wanting earlier in the film* (which she notably did not have in their relationship at the beginning). But we don't end on this moment, we get one final scene with Frances in her own apartment. She has finally learned how to be herself.

Previous reviews | 100 Favorite Films
Best of 60–90-Minute Features | Girl Power

One final note: while I was going through looking for the quote I remembered how much I love the editing in this movie. It uses the tiniest of little snippets to transition between scenes (a single shot of Frances at the grocery store) which help the character and her environment feel real. But then this also gives more power to scenes when these transitional elements are missing (cut directly from Sophie talking about moving out to Frances alone in her apartment with Sophie already gone).

*"It's that thing when you're with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it... but it's a party... and you're both talking to other people, and you're laughing and shining... and you look across the room and catch each other's eyes... but - but not because you're possessive, or it's precisely sexual... but because... that is your person in this life. And it's funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it's this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It's sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don't have the ability to perceive them. That's - That's what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess."

ScreeningNotes liked these reviews