What are films if not an opportunity to spend time in a world that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter? OK, they’re lots of other things, but that’s a start. Either way, Frances Ha is one of these; there’s not much else to it. And that’s what makes it great.
The film depends so much on Frances (Greta Gerwig) and her world being worth your time because there’s little else here – no real arc, beyond a person’s often difficult attempts to get things right.
It’s a world that takes a while to locate oneself in. The black and white grain of it jars a little at first; then it feels like one is living inside a Simpsons parody of Woody Allen; then it works, and you are settled. (Or I was.) The geography of it helps (and is detailed on the film’s website), but it’s mainly a process of finding out where you are, and getting to know the characters.
Once you are in place, there’s a lot to love. Frances – and the rest of the characters – is endearing, but not made with force to be likeable. Each has their flaws, and genuine flaws – not the kind of flaws that throw the perfections into relief, or whatever, but actual problems. There are times when the characters feel like the kind of people that the writers (and most people watching the film) want to be, but they aren’t often.
In this way, it feels very ‘millennial’. (It’s quite similar to Girls in this way, though I think better; but that’s a discussion that’s been had far too many times.) It’s because of this that, despite obvious and numerous parallels, it avoids the pitfalls of the Woody Allen films that it is no doubt taking its lead from. It has a main character through whom the viewer relates; but unlike Woody Allen, this is not a person who is simply too clever or too sensitive for the world around her (this is not meant as a criticism of Allen).
Instead, it is the story of someone who are negotiating their failures, with which the film is open and honest. And – OK, this is cloying, but – it’s one that can help work out what to do with your own.