Photograph by Pari Dukovic, Courtosey of The New Yorker
I wanted to review Francis Ha the moment I watched it during a downpour back in May, but I needed to let it sink into my pores before I made an attempt to limit this film to paragraphs.
Critics have already begun comparing Francis Ha to Breathless and Manhattan, although the film is likely to end up in a film school syllabus in the near future, Francis Ha lacks the pretentiousness of these films by tapping into the personal and relatable experiences of its characters. Francis (Greta Gerwig) is a dancer who kind of loves her craft and is kind of good at it. It seems like her true passion is personal connection and chemistry, which she shares with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). The two friends sleep, smoke and grumble together, but the friendship is disrupted when Sophie decides to move out and gradually start a new life with her boyfriend.
Francis, distraught over the loss of her friend, searches for connection through roommates, vocations and places—at one point booking a trip to Paris on a credit card she received in the mail.
As most of us can relate finding true connections are difficult and would not be a valued aspect of life if it were otherwise. Francis ends up in situations where she is either misunderstood, or truly cherished. The film is not only a love letter to New York, but to the human circumstance. Gerwig, although beautiful, has an unconventional and relatable beauty, which creates a unique film persona. She wears the same leather jacket and leggings in almost every scene and has already accepted her awkwardness as endearing, or at least we have.
Last April Francis Ha’s director Noah Baumbach and Gerwig were featured in a New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/04/29/130429fa_fact_parker) where they shed light on both their working (Gerwig co-wrote the film with Baumbach) and romantic relationship. Just as Gerwig’s character in Greenberg gave a much needed dose of optimism to the films protagonist (Ben Stiller), it seems like she is doing the same for Baumbach, whose films typically portray individuals who are dissatisfied on a level only Woody Allen has produced. Like Allen, Baumbach has given us his Annie Hall/Diane Keaton perfecta.
With Frances Ha Baumbach leaves the self-loathing behind and creates a truly unique character. Although broke, moving from apartment to apartment and in a type of career limbo that only a young idealist can understand, Frances is content. For most people not knowing when their next paycheck will arrive or where they are going to live would send them into a depressed state. For young New Yorkers this is the deal we make with The City. Stability and suburban life have been signed away for the great adventures of shitty apartments and detached encounters. New Yorkers revel in the fact that this is a rough city and to live here in the first place separates us from most of the human race— the front lines of living.
For several moviegoers Noah Baumbach’s films are too depressing, especially after viewing Margo and the Wedding, the melancholy can be off putting. The collaboration between Gerwig and Baumbach is heaven sent, alone they are an accomplished actress and film director, but together they have conceptualized the hopeless romantic and the tortured artist— New Yorkers to the core. In order to truly live we should expect to feel embarrassed, clueless, and disconnected as Frances does with the understanding that confidence and chemistry will come in short stunning bursts.
As I sit in a cubical writing this blog from an office job that pays the bills and will hopefully lead to greater accomplishments, the plight of Francis is all too real for me and countless others. Don’t dream it, do it, but with an understanding that the drudgery and despair is a part of its beauty.