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Film / Frances Ha

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Frances Ha is a 2012 indie Dramedy film directed by Noah Baumbach, starring (and co-written by) Greta Gerwig.

Frances Halladay (Gerwig) is a 27-year-old aspiring dancer living in New York City with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). The problem is that her dancing career has not been as successful as she had hoped, and her relationship with Sophie is becoming increasingly strained. Frances breaks up with her boyfriend Dan (Michael Esper) because she is not ready to move out of the apartment she shares with Sophie; however, unbeknown to her, Sophie is about to move out anyway. This is only the beginning of a long, difficult journey to adulthood for Frances.

The story is mainly told in an episodic, Slice of Life fashion. We get glimpses of Frances' life as she hangs out (and/or argues) with her friends, works with the dancing company, visits her parents and dances all the way home after getting a tax rebate. Frances sees the people around her growing up, settling down, finding careers and getting married, while her own life doesn't seem to be going anywhere. She symbolically revisits her youth at her parents' house in Sacramento, then by working for a while in her old college, with the constant question being when and how Frances is going to find her place in the adult world.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Frances herself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Frances has to learn to live away from and grow up without Sophie, who's moved on with Patch regardless of how truly happy the two are together. Frances still considers her her best friend even though they'll inevitably move apart, but she's satisfied with her new clerical work, her own apartment as she pursues her passion for dance through choreography and teaching, and there remains a possible relationship with Benji.
  • Blatant Lies: Every time Frances assures everyone that everything's totally fine with Sophie.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Between Frances and Sophie, friendship-wise, though their getting back together as friends seems neither permanent nor the making of a happy ending — it's clear that Frances has to move on without Sophie.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: When asked by yuppies at a dinner party what her job is, Frances has a hard time responding. Not because what she does (dancing) is complicated, but because "I don't really do it".
  • Child Hater: Though not explicitly stated, Sophie is obviously one of these. One of her qualities for her and Frances' ideal life is to have no children. Later, she admits to thinking miscarriages are cool.
    • This is also a shared characteristic between Sophie and Frances, although Frances seems to be less so. She is visibly bored when Rachel's friends are talking about their baby and rants about disliking people talking about their children.
  • Coming of Age Story: The film follows Frances as she struggles to cope with life as an independent adult. By the end of the film, Frances' life seems to be on something resembling the right path, but she still has trouble wholly adapting to the adult world. And she's much older than typical character going through such story.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Sophie had one off-screen. She describes it as "cool" in the sense that it saved her having an abortion, but concedes that it sounds "crass" to admit it.
  • Country Matters: Frances describes Sophie's new (unseen) room-mate Lisa in these terms several times.
  • Cringe Comedy: Quite often, such as Frances' behaviour around her college's donor (she takes the instruction to shadow the woman somewhat too literally).
  • David Bowie: Provides much of the soundtrack.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The film is entirely in black-and-white, as an artistic choice.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Needing to earn some money, Frances works several unwanted jobs, as a waitress and a volunteer at her old college.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Averted and Played for Drama. Everyone has enough money for their apartment except Frances and Frances is always struggling just to get by.
  • Friend Versus Lover: Frances assumes that, as a best friend, Sophie will choose her over Patch, as Frances chose Sophie over Dan. She doesn't.
  • Growing Up Sucks: One of the major themes of the film, even if Frances is close to 30. She struggles to adapt to the adult professional world, for a while symbolically revisiting her youth by getting humiliating work at her old college.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Frances is convinced that this is how she and Sophie will turn out. Sophie, on the other hand...
  • High Hopes, Zero Talent: Frances is still an understudy at the age of 30 and it's clear she's not going anywhere, yet she holds out the hope that her big break is coming soon. It doesn't; her getting a real job at the end of the movie signifies her moving on.
  • I'm Not Here to Make Friends: Lampshaded at a dinner conversation that it never really happens in real life.
  • Insistent Terminology: Frances isn't "messy", she's "busy".
  • Ironic Echo: After getting drunk and having an argument with her fiance; Patch, Sophie stays the night at Frances' dorm. They share the bed, and Sophie asks Frances to remove her socks, mirroring one of the first scenes in the film.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Frances and Sophie joke that they're like an old lesbian couple that doesn't have sex anymore. Frances and Benji later say the same thing about themselves, implying that Frances doesn't have to feel like Sophie's the only one in the world for her.
  • Manchild: Frances is 27, but has yet to learn much about financial responsibility and making sacrifices.
    • While at her parents house in Sacramento, Frances spends a long time philosophising in the bathtub. When her mother gets fed up waiting to use the bathroom, she asks Frances how much longer she's going to take. This serves as a pretty good metaphor for Frances' life in general.
    • During her trip to Paris, Frances misses much of her first day in the city by staying up all night in her room, then ignoring the alarm clock well into the afternoon.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Deconstructed and subverted. Frances has a lot of classic tropes of the MPDG, such as a Motor Mouth, impulsivity, and an artistic dancer, but she also has the ignored flaws of most MPDGS and she ends up lonely, rather than in a relationship, as a result of her behaviour.
  • Nerd Glasses: Sophie sports a pair, which along with her being a brunette and Frances being a blonde seems to lead people to assume she's an intellectual. In fact Frances is the much better read of the two (or so she claims, at least).
  • No Antagonist: Frances is arguably her own antagonist with her Anti-Hero status. Sophie might be breaking up with Frances, but she doesn't mean to hurt her, and Frances hates Patch, who she actually realises that she likes and he likes her.
  • Noodle Incident: "What about that time you made a cake?"
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Frances has a bad, bad habit of doing this whenever she's in a social situation.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Financial constraints are a regular concern for Frances, as a combined result of her lack of meaningful employment, her living in New York City and her spendthrift nature. However, when she complains about being poor, Benji points out that she's not really that poor, and that saying so is offensive to actual poor people.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A recurring theme.
    • Frances breaks up with Dan (among other reasons) because she is unwilling to move out from her and Sophie's place, yet Sophie moves out anyway.
    • Frances travels to Paris for the weekend on a whim, hoping to meet a friend of hers there (and getting into massive credit card debt in the process). When she gets there, she fails to reach her friend, then finds out that Sophie is holding a farewell party that very evening (in New York) before moving to Japan. When on her way to the airport to fly to back to the US, her friend finally calls her back, asking if she's free that night.
    • Frances spends only two days in Paris (not really doing anything), because she has a meeting with her dance teacher the following Monday. When she has her meeting, her teacher points out that Frances could always have postponed it, and that she almost did so herself on account of a sniffle.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Frances tries to turn Rachel, who has no interest in being this and nothing in common with her, into this for her old roommate and best friend Sophie.
  • Shout-Out: It's tough to recognize just from the audio, but one of the movies Frances watches with Benji is The 400 Blows, another Deliberately Monochrome Slice of Life movie.
    • In addition, a score from the above-mentioned movie plays in the background during the scene where Frances runs and tries to draw cash from her card during her date.
    • The long shot of Frances running/dancing through the streets to David Bowie's "Modern Love" is identical to a scene in the French '80s film Mauvais Sang.
  • Slice of Life: While there is definitely a story arc (primarily a character arc for the protagonist), much of the film consists of individual snippets of Frances' life.
  • Third Wheel: Frances to Sophie and Patch, with Sophie being the one who wants to move on from her friendship with Frances.
  • Title Drop: At the end of the film, Frances moves into a new apartment and, perhaps as a metaphor for her settling down and growing up, she puts up a name tag on her own letter box. Unfortunately, she doesn't yet seem to have gotten the hang of the concept entirely, as her name tag does not fit the slot perfectly. "Frances Halladay" is shortened to "Frances Ha".
  • Too Much Information: Frances also has a tendency to overshare with everyone, such as when she tells Caroline, who she's never met before, about her career woes.