I think I’ve lived in Hong Kong too long. When I first heard of the film, FRANCES HA, I thought it was a story about a local woman. After all, I know a Connie Ha and a Shirley Ha so why not a film about a Frances Ha? But Ha is not Frances’ surname, as we discover in the final scene of this very interesting indie film by Noah Baumbach and the film’s star, Greta Gerwig.
Frances is a 20-something California girl (from Sacramento, to be precise). A Vassar graduate, she moved to New York a few years earlier with dreams of making it big as a dancer. She shares an apartment with her BFF from school, Sophie, who herself is busy breaking into the publishing world. Frances apprentices at a modern dance company though she’s really not very good. She breaks up with her boyfriend not because he wanted her to move in with him but because it would mean moving away from Sophie, and that’s not what they had planned for themselves. She lives a carefree, bohemian life on credit card debt, sure that one day she’ll be “a real person”, as she says it.
But while Frances may be stuck in a reality rut, drifting aimlessly from paycheque to paycheque, Sophie and her other wannabe artist friends are growing up. One by one, they leave Frances behind, leaving her to assess her own life just as it is falling apart.
Frances may be a bit of a klutz – both physically and socially – but she’s a loveable (but “undateable”) klutz. When she turns down a job offer that doesn’t quite fit into her vision of the future, we feel sorry for her because we’ve all made dumb decisions when we were young and naive. The same can be said when she flies off to Paris for the weekend. She can’t afford it but she goes there anyway simply because she can. And even though she has a lousy, lonely time there, her optimism is resolute. Frances is so full of life that we can’t help but cheer for her even as she falls on her face over and over again.
Much criticism has been leveled that the film rips off Lena Dunham’s HBO series, GIRLS, and Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN. I have never seen GIRLS so I can’t comment on that one. For the MANHATTAN connection, I would say that FRANCES HA isn’t a rip off as much as it pays homage to both Allen and to the city. Like MANHATTAN, FRANCES HA is filmed in black and white. And Frances is similar to Allen’s other New York icon, Annie Hall. They’re both flaky and clumsy yet endearing at the same time.
The film also stars Mickey Sumner (Sting’s daughter), Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep’s daughter), and Adam Driver (who sang along with Justin Timberlake and Oscar Isaac in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and who also stars in GIRLS). With FRANCES HA, we are watching the next generation of New York’s – and Hollywood’s – shining stars.
The film has had limited engagements in all the major cities one would expect, as well as in a host of international film festivals. If you can find it where you live, I encourage you to see it.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 33:30.)