Film

Recommended Viewings: Frances Ha

In honour of the Oscars this weekend, we’re continuing our Recommended Viewings series with MUBI by revisiting Frances Ha. While Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women, Barbie) may have been overlooked in the best director category, she and partner Noah Baumbach are nominated for best adapted screenplay this year. So we wanted to revisit our favourite collaboration from the filmmaker pair, from over a decade ago!

Frances Ha was directed by Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Marriage Story) and stars Gerwig who co-wrote the script together with Baumbach. Although Gerwig acted in Baumbach’s previous film Greenberg (2010), it was Frances Ha that introduced her talent to the world. This was also a moment in time when audiences seemed open to embracing women’s stories in a different way: to entertain more complex depictions of female friendship and the struggle for self-actualization specific to women at a certain stage of life.

Frances Ha, 2012

Much like Lena Dunham’s series Girls (which came out that same year) one could take issue with the narrowness (i.e. whiteness) of the point of view being expressed. You also can’t really talk about Frances Ha without addressing the issue of privilege and the relative nature of the term “struggling artist” when one is so well connected with a plethora of friends and family to fall back on. Frances is forced to acknowledge this herself when she insists to her roommate, Benji, that she can’t afford to chip in to hire a cleaner. Frances insists that she is “poor.” To which Benji replies: “But you’re not poor. That’s offensive to actual poor people.” “Yeah, I guess that’s true,” Frances responds in her lilting way.

Frances Ha, 2012

It’s not so much Frances’s response but the consistency of it that works in her favour. She responds to the correction the same way she responds to everything in her life. She takes it in stride. She stands corrected, openly, nonchalantly, sometimes even cheerfully. Frances is quick to recover, to make things right or try to. And it’s hard to fault her for doing just that — trying her best.

The charm of the film is Frances. Gerwig. Or whatever magical combination of them both the film manages to capture. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Frances or the film is self-aware. It’s Frances’ persistence that matters. That endears us to her, flaws and all.

Frances Ha, 2012
Frances Ha, 2012

If any of you aspiring filmmakers out there need a little extra motivation to watch the film, you should know that the whole thing was shot with only a Canon 5D Mark II camera! It’s refreshing to see a film of this caliber produced with such a cheap, consumer level camera. Especially in light of how BIG movies have become (think of Marvel or even the magnitude of Barbie now), re-watching Frances Ha 12 years later is a nice reminder of the need for more storytelling on this level.

The smallness of France’s world — to be taken inside and experience it with her — there is value in that. Insight and inspiration, too.

Frances Ha is now streaming on MUBI. Get 30 days free to watch it and hundreds more hand-picked films on MUBI at mubi.com/booooooom.

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