You know when you look forward to something for a while, and you build up the expectations so much that it cannot possibly measure up?
That’s what I did with the film Frances Ha. I first watched the trailer back in Oz months ago, after reading a glowing magazine interview with the film’s director Noah Baumbach. I got so excited that I watched one of his other movies—The Squid and the Whale. Even though I found that one fantastically depressing (and a little gross in parts), I didn’t let that dampen my enthusiasm.
Last weekend, a weekend of weather so fine and uncharacteristically warm that I really should have stayed outside all day, I finally made it to the Roxie Theatre, the only cinema in San Francisco that was screening the movie (which has now closed).
The plot: Frances lives with her best friend Sophie in New York in an intense friendship she describes as a “marriage without sex”. Frances is trying to fulfil her dream of being a dancer but for now is an apprentice at a dance company. Sophie decides to move out, which comes as a shock to Frances who is upset by the abandonment. Frances is also too poor to pay the rent on her own, so has to find somewhere else to live.
There is an odd but very realistic interlude where Frances goes home to see her family—with her real-life mum and dad playing her film parents. Anyone who has lived away from from family and gone home for those whirlwind visits can probably relate to that part of the movie. It’s so intense, fun and comforting to be around family and friends, but you know it’ll be over soon. Eventually you have to get back on that plane and return to real life.
Frances waves goodbye to her parents at the airport and flies back to New York. She stays with a cold fish “friend” from the dance company. Despite being broke she suddenly decides to go to Paris for the weekend (what the!). She makes it back in time for a Monday meeting with the dance company director that she thinks might be good news (but you, the audience, know is bad news). Things go bad between Frances and Sophie who is getting closer to her boyfriend and distancing herself from their friendship.
The characters: Frances is awkward but loveable. She kind of sucks at life, one of her housemates along the way calls her “undateable”. She is messy, smokes and makes bad decisions. But Frances is effervescent and you have to admire the strength of her dream of being a dancer, no matter how unrealistic.
Sophie works in publishing. She’s cleaner and more disciplined than Frances and is more aware of their need to grow up. She gives up her publishing career to move to Tokyo with her boyfriend. She wears hideous big hipster glasses.
The moral of the story: This movie is about being 27. It’s about having to grow up. Being broke and living in share houses is no longer romantic. The university days are fading into the past and friends are getting married. Those intense, codependent friendships of the early twenties can’t be a crutch anymore. Frances realises she’s going to have to pursue her dream alone. She’s also realising that she might need to augment her dream to make it achieveable.
The verdict: Like I said, I built my expectations way too high for this movie. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting it to blow my mind, which it didn’t. I also forgot it was going to be in black and white.
Nevertheless, it was a beautiful movie. Frances was such a loveable character, despite her cringeworthy awkwardness and flaws. And having been 27 and had my quarter life crisis not that long ago (actually, it may be still going), I thought it captured that age perfectly.