Full of an ironic twist of wit and anxiety, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha is the best filmic portrayal of the millennial generation's emerging adulthood phenomenon. Frances (co-writer and indie hipster romantic comedy veteran Greta Gerwig) is a feisty misfit, running through urban streets with abandon, spontaneous and full of life, passionate about her hopes and dreams, yet struggling with the whole idea of growing up. Shot in stark black-and-white while set in 2012 New York, Frances Ha pays homage to early Woody Allen comedies (Manhattan, Annie Hall) and the French New Wave films of the 1960s, Godard's Breathless, in particular.
Frances is an aspiring dancer, but her primary focus seems to be on enjoying life in the moment, especially if her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is with her. The story is casual and free-flowing, jumping from scene to scene throughout Frances' ever-changing life. She dances in the park. She enjoys a beer with Sophie on her fire escape. She whines about not having enough money, but not really caring enough to find a better job to suit her. When Sophie chooses to move in with her boyfriend, Frances sullenly moves in with a few random guys, living off their couch and their naive good graces. She struggles to keep her job at the dancing studio. She goes home for Christmas. She attends dinner parties. And so on. While the film is filled with glances at ordinary moments in Frances' life, it's earnest pacing and authentic characters are captivating.
A note of caution: the emerging adults in Frances Ha often use frank and vulgar sexual language, because (and this may be a shock to you) emerging adults often use frank and vulgar sexual language. They talk with a casual bluntness about love and relationships; authenticity is the primary core value of this emerging generation. Yet our authenticity doesn't equate with integrity. Sophie isn't even sure if she loves her boyfriend, yet she moves in with him, ultimately moving to Japan with him for business. "Your blog looked great," Frances tells Sophie, after it's been revealed that she's miserable in Japan. We can be authentically inconsistent; our blogs and online profiles serve as the new social masks, covering our deepest selves, allowing us the freedom of fluidity in our relationships and identity.
Frances Ha is filled with beautiful, cathartic moments which happen in fits and spurts: Frances sitting with the crying college girl in the dorm hallway; Frances' monologue telling the woman at the dinner party about her ideal romantic moment, where two eyes catch across the room and there is a "knowing" of each other that is beyond sexual or emotional longing; Frances running and dancing through the streets of New York with a reckless freedom. It is this last image--Frances running--that sticks in my mind the most. The world around her is a blur as she rushes forward, uncertain about the obstacles or opportunities that lie ahead, yet running at full speed. She is the poster child for the millennial generation's struggles and hopes, rushing with abandon into the future.