Frances Ha ★★★★

"The people from the coffee house are right. We are like a lesbian couple that doesn't have sex anymore”

This is how Frances describes her platonic relationship with her roommate Sophie at the beginning of 2013’s Frances Ha. This is the first of many times in the film that these characters, liberal arts graduates living in Brooklyn and pushing 30, are forced, by themselves or others, to question how their gender affects both the way others see them and the way in which they see themselves.

Directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Greta Gerwig, Ha is about a young woman stumbling through her life as a part-time studio dancer. The two co-wrote the film, providing this female-centric story with both male and female perspectives. Currently streaming on Netflix, and available for free on YouTube, the film is a character study that at the same time tackles various gender stereotypes and works as a platonic love story between two friends.

At a Q&A with Gerwig and Baumbach following an early screening of the film, someone questioned the social relevance of a film like this about "middle to upper-class white people". Gerwig replied by saying, "Every life has victories and defeats and struggles". Baumbach sarcastically added that they wanted to have a good soundtrack, "since it didn't have any social value". The questioner replied by shouting "fuck you", to which another audience member shouted, “As a woman I found it very socially meaningful, so fuck you!” This is what great films are - vessels to relate to. Everyone sees art through their own lenses, and relates it to their own lives.

This is the kind of movie in which you have to really buy into the main character early on and like her in order to like the film. We follow Gerwig's titular character through her constantly changing friends and living situations. It’s a unique film in that it’s a revolving door of locations and characters, for Frances is the only constant in this restless and kaleidoscopic look at young life in New York City. The moody black and white cinematography perfectly contrasts the vibrant characters and upbeat music. All of these elements complement an excellent character study, but what I find more interesting is the central conflict between Frances and her best friend, Sophie.

At its heart, this film is about Frances being in love with Sophie, but not in a sexual way. Frances’ most poignant bit of dialogue comes at an uncomfortable dinner party when she talks about when two people catch each other's eyes across the room at a party and inhabit a dimension that is entirely their own. She says that is what she wants out of her life. She is not referring to a romantic connection; she is referring to her own friendship with Sophie, who moves to Tokyo after a quarrel between them.

In other movies a phrase like this would be interpreted as our lead looking for a romantic relationship, but men are not Frances’ highest priority. In most films that have female leads, there is a male love interest. However, in this film there is not one because the story is focused on the independence of the character, with all of her triumphs and follies being fiercely her own.

Sophie is like Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of "Why Women Still Can't Have It All", an essay published in the Atlantic in 2012 dissecting the limitations of the modern woman. Slaughter discusses the need for women to try to achieve success in both family life and professional life, and how this becomes complicated with children. Although Sophie doesn’t think about children at the moment she one day probably will, for she is striving to fit into the mold of a professional woman. She has an ambition Frances lacks. Sophie wants to have it all. She moves to Tokyo with Patch, her fiancé who she makes fun of earlier in the film before saying that he is "a nice guy, for today". She strives to be a professional, working in a corporate publishing office and dreaming of being an "awesomely bitchy publishing mogul".

Sophie wears the façade of maturity, but she is ultimately the one that breaks down after as they visit their old college and are forced to come to terms with where they are in life. She realizes the artificiality of this life she has tried to build. Frances, on the other hand, is aimless and more comfortable with her life because it is her own.

Masculinity in the film is defined by Lev and Ben, two friends of Sophie’s that Frances meets, befriends, and then moves in with because she needs a place to live. Lev and Ben represent two vastly different kinds of men. Lev, played by Adam Driver, is more of a traditional figure of masculinity. He is constantly having one night stands and he rides a motorcycle. He is the suave womanizer. Ben on the other hand, is not as traditionally masculine. Just like Sophie and Frances, they are foils to one another and each represent different gender roles.

The film succeeds in its subtle examination of the role gender plays in people’s quest to find meaning in their lives. The film makes the bold statement that maybe not everyone is special, and that realizing this can be comforting and fulfilling. Through depicting strong female characters that diverge onto separate paths, the film examines the impact of society’s gender expectations and does so through France’s singular point of view.

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