Any college student is familiar with the daunting, all-too-close idea of life after college. Once handed that diploma, the utopia that is college has passed and you are forced to grow up. The 27-year old dancer, Frances in Noah Baumbach’s comedy Frances Ha has not quite mastered the art of adulthood as she experiences the sudden urgency to mature, struggling to hold onto her job, her best friend, and any normalcy in her life. Filmed in black and white, Frances proves that the journey to adulthood is not always that simple.
Everything seems to go downhill quickly, beginning with an unexpected separation of her and her best friend Sophie. Their once marital-like friendship reaches a rough patch as Sophie decides to move to a better part of New York, establishing an adult life that Frances cannot yet grasp. Compared to Sophie, Frances is lagging behind; she just breaks up with her boyfriend, moves in with two guys as dazed and confused as she, and struggles to hold onto her apprenticeship at the dance company. Barely making it by, Frances faces a series of unfortunate events that test her strength and sanity, yet never quite break her. She confronts her bad luck with an innocent awkwardness that will keep you laughing under your breath even as she uncomfortably tries to converse at an “adult” dinner party. Things hardly look up for her, but she tries. She’ll dance through the streets when she feels like it, take a trip to Paris when she can’t afford it, and work at her university as an RA if she has to.
While the themes of the movie—break-ups, financial strain, and a general confusion about life—can easily be a tale of woe, Baumbach presents Frances’ situation in a light and uplifting manner. The most promising aspect of the film is its simplicity. Modest in its use of music and cinematography, the film focuses on Frances, inviting viewers to take a moment to appreciate the underdog who values her friendship with Sophie more than anything else. Despite all of Frances’ clumsiness and awkward encounters, it presents a genuine and innocent honesty giving Frances a dimensionality that makes her more than a confused and struggling New Yorker, but a bearer of universal truths. Whether you are just beginning college, experiencing the post-college trauma, or are already deep into adulthood, Frances’ message is applicable to all: while we must inevitably mature, the child within us that defines the friendships we make never really does—and never really has to.
Despite the apparent hardship Frances experiences in a short amount of time, there is something so upbeat and hopeful about her journey. The more in debt she becomes and the more ridiculous her situation appears, the more you fall in love with her. You are drawn to her quirkiness, everything that makes her so “un-dateable,” as she so often says. She is klutzy and she struggles, but she always finds a way.
While a simple movie in many respects, it is robust and full of life. It is not flashy or excessively abstract because it does not need to be. It cleverly peeks into moments that Frances deals with in her own, unconventional ways. And while sometimes she may do or say things that make you cringe, we all have a little bit of Frances within us. She simultaneously bares the strong qualities of a levelheaded woman and the confused, foggy decision-making capabilities of a teenager. Baumbach lets the wonderfully colorful personality of Frances bring light to the black and white screen. She overcomes the glaring question “What am I doing with my life?” not with the grace of a dancer that she is, but with the optimistic and awkward struggle that can give us all some hope.