The plight of the artist is often used as inspiration for feature films. Whether it's the real life drama behind the scenes or the dreams of a nobody trying to be a somebody, cinema has a fascination with looking at the people behind the entertainment we enjoy so freely. Frances Ha is a bittersweet comedy about Frances, a 27-year-old woman who wants nothing more than to be a professional modern dancer. She's in an apprenticeship program for a professional company, teaching beginner lessons to children and crashing with various friends in NYC and Brooklyn. When her long time roommate and best friend Sophie has the opportunity to move into her dream apartment, Frances has to learn to fend for herself as a full-fledged adult for the first time.
Writer/director Noam Baumbach found the perfect muse in actress/writer Greta Gerwig. Her portrayal of Frances is heartbreaking, inspiring, funny, humiliating, intelligent, and uncomfortable. Gerwig avoids turning Frances into some child trapped in an adult's body. She plays her as an innocent free spirit finally forced to confront the reality of making rent, paying bills, and being responsible for herself.
The story arc of Frances Ha is the opposite of the typical rags to riches Hollywood fable. Frances starts off in the best place she'll be the entire film and slowly falls apart. Sophie moves out. The dance company can't give her anymore classes to teach. The first guy to show any interest in her after her boyfriend dumped her calls her "un-dateable." None of these are huge setbacks on their own; some are even petty first world problems. Yet, even a long series of minor problems and inconveniences can begin to wear on the mind.
The confident, friendly, larger than life Frances in the first scene is slowly beaten into submission by the pressures of the real world. Her dreams are slowly being pulled further and further away when she was so sure the were within her grasp. The people she relies on are moving on into more traditional lives--careers, families, responsibilities--while Frances fights hard to find her own sense of purpose and happiness.
Finding happiness is one of the key themes in the film. Frances is the kind of person who doesn't think she's entitled to happiness unless she earns it with success. If things aren't working out, she fakes it with a grimace instead of admitting she might need a boost to feel better about herself. Her sense of worth is polished away by an unyielding and unintentional series of slights that strip her raw.
Just seeing a film about someone who thinks they lose the right to find happiness in life made me feel normal. I'm not the only person who struggles to keep a positive outlook on life when things get hard or plans go awry. Frances Ha deals with these terribly conflicting emotions and expectations in an honest way. This 86 minute film says more about fear, anxiety, depression, and the elusive nature of happiness than any big budget Oscar-winning film in recent memory.
Frances Ha is beautifully shot in expressive black and white. It's filled with wonderful music that perfectly compliments the mental state of Frances over her trials as a could-be famous dancer. The NYC/Brooklyn apartments are totally believable for the various income levels represented in the film and the whole film is actually shot in the locations they mention. Brooklyn is really Brooklyn, Burbank is really Burbank, and the F train is really the F train. Frances Ha is a film grounded in a firm handling of the reality of struggling artists today and never loses sight of it.
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