Movie review: “Francis Ha”

(image via impawards.com)

 

Life, complicated though it is, is one of those things that every adult on the planet is supposed to have totally figured out.

Because we’re, you know, adults, and that’s what we’re expected to do.

The truth is, all appearances aside, many of us don’t and it’s this subversively honest idea that informs Francis Ha, the latest delightfully idiosyncratic film from talented director Noah Baumbach.

Written by Baumbach and actress Greta Gerwig who plays the titular character, the movie is filmed in black and white, a wholly inspired choice by cinematographer Sam Levy which counterpoints the fact that nothing in life is as clear cut as it seems to Francis and her coterie of friends and acquaintances.

Not that any of them, most of all Francis, will admit to even noticing the murky grey swarming all around them.

What the apprentice dancer, who is perpetually on the sidelines at the dance company where she works, and without a permanent roof over her head after her BFF Sophie (Mickey Sumner), with whom she has a highly idealised if authentic friendship, moves out to live on her favourite street in Tribeca, sees is a life of well-delineated possibilities.

The fact that none of these possibilities ever quite come to pass is immaterial.

 

Frances Ha opens with a series of scenes depicting the carefree, close friendship between Frances and Sophie, caught in a wonderland that is a rudely interrupted when Sophie moves in with another friend (image via melbournesgpo.com)

 

It’s the idea that they might that drives her and stops her from accepting the offer of an office job at the dance company (which would pay enough money to allow her to stage her own dance performances on the side) from colleague Colleen (Charlotte D’Amboise) or the use of an apartment while Sophie, from whom her life diverges quite markedly, and boyfriend-turned-husband Patch (Patrick Heusinger) are in Tokyo on a work assignment.

She is a woman, optimistically, chaotically, and bravely on the cusp, always one step away from the startling success she fully expects her life to morph into if she just believes and hangs on long enough.

Of course, that isn’t quite what happens, and it’s a delight watching Gerwig bring forth her character’s dawning, and quite painful realisation that perhaps, just perhaps, life may not do her the courtesy of playing out as she expects it to do.

Initially at least she puts aside any discomfort at these slow-leak realisations, telling herself that her succession of apartments – one of which sees her flatting with trust fund boys Benji (Michael Zegen) and Lev (Adam Driver) who like her are playing at life, though none of course will admit that – and jobs, one of which is a summer job at her old university where the penny finally drops that she has to take some control of her destiny.

Finally though she begins to understand that life won’t quite be the thing of perfectly accomplished beauty that she is expecting, and turns to fashioning a career and seeking living arrangement that though not quite true to her ideal, are functional and pleasing.

 

Frances runs and runs and runs – in this case to find an ATM after a hilariously truthful but understated meal with Lev at a restaurant – but never quite gets anywhere (image via darkenedscreens.wordpress.com)

 

And it’s this singular realisation that forms the backbone of this remarkably insightful, funny and yes joyously real film.

It’s the idea that while shooting for the stars is a wonderful, thoroughly laudable idea, it’s not always the most realistic option, and that settling for a place a little close to planet earth may be better instead.

What I loved about Frances Ha is that it doesn’t paint its optimistic Anne of Green Gables-esque titular character as a vapid, clueless wannabe who can’t quite get her act together.

Instead she is presented as a flawed everywoman/everyman, like all of us, doing her best to integrate her dreamy ideas of the future with a harshly realistic present which isn’t often as inclusive of those dreams as she’d like it to be.

The fact that she doesn’t realise them in their undiluted form is not presented as a failure, or the result of “settling” but simply the way things are, and the film ends with her happily going about her new, imperfect but quite satisfying life.

 

A summer job back at her old university is the catalyst for Frances to finally accept that idealistic visions are one thing and a workable, meaningful life quite another (image via blog.sezane.com)

 

Frances Ha is ultimately one of the most truthful, and funny, films I have ever seen, unafraid to tackle the idea that none of us really knows what we’re doing, despite our best efforts to display total and complete mastery of this curious puzzle called life.

None of the accomplished people around Frances – from Sophie who admits that her happy snaps image of life in Tokyo on her blog is all fiction to her dance colleague Colleen who looks to be living the artistic high life but is mired in paperwork and schedules – has it as together as the perpetually optimistic would-be dancer thinks they do, and when Frances finally realises this, you can almost see the burden to make the impossible happen fall off her.

It’s the sort of film anyone with even a modicum of self-awareness can relate to, and when Frances does finally get a “grown-up” life, it brings home the fact, with joyfully insightful honesty, that just because something is imperfect, doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth pursuing.

 

 

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