For a film about a dancer, Frances Ha sure doesn’t have much dancing in it. Come on, it’s even on the theatrical poster. Instead it’s very much all about the travails of a struggling young artiste trying to find her place in New York. At the same time, it shows her with her best friend, a relationship that our heroine says is “like a lesbian couple that have stopped having sex.”
In the hands of a lesser director or a less accomplished actress, this could well be a case of “so far, so boring.” It might even be repulsive being as it’s about relatively well-off white young people in New York facing distinctly first-world problems and acting as if they were at the height of coolness. The scriptwriter seems cognizant of this, lampshading it with a line, “You’re not poor. That would be an insult to actual poor people.”
Yet Greta Gerwig plays the protagonist with such an appealing combination of naivety, earnestness and cheerfulness that it’s impossible not to like her. The characterization is also deepened by the sense of desperation you sense in her frantic social interactions. This is someone who needs the company of others to feel any joy and so tries hard to fit in, even if her sense of social dynamics is off-kilter and makes it hard. Without this hint of darkness, this film would be unbearably light and chirpy.
One Broken Forum poster calls this the kind of film in which nothing much happens. Indeed, the film begins with Frances being somewhat out of sorts due to needing to find a place to stay and ends with her sticking her name on a letterbox in an apartment of her own. In between, we learn a few things about her, a bit about her best friend and her own set of compromises with the realities of life, and we see how Frances maybe manages to achieve a bit of maturity along the way.
It doesn’t sound like much to hang a movie around and indeed, you shouldn’t set your expectations too high for such a modest film. But not every film needs to be about big issues and Frances Ha wins one over with its treatment of the small problems in life with its light-hearted tone, restrained snippets of witticisms and plenty of charm.