Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a bit of a mess. She is trying to make her way in the world, but she doesn’t have the first clue about how to do it. Owning not much more than a laptop, a stack of books, and the clothes on her back, she lives with her friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who has her life a little more together. When Sophie decides to dump Frances for a coveted apartment in Tribeca, Frances couch surfs her way across New York City. She is twenty-seven and trying to grasp a hold of a dream concocted a mere five years ago. In five years time, it will be just outside of her grasp.
Frances works as a part-time dance instructor and understudy at the studio. Dance is as close to a raison d’être that Frances ever gives, and even that is less than convincing. She gets laid off from the studio, but doesn’t go looking for a new job. When she can no longer afford her sublet, she gets a job as a Resident Assistant for her alma mater during summer camp. They let her stay in the dorms and pay her a little to pour wine for the school’s fundraisers. All of these decisions, including a two-day trip to Paris on a credit card, are impulsive and without forethought. Frances is a frustrating character to watch because she seems incapable of thinking a moment prior to acting. While on a date with Lev (Adam Driver), she tries to pay for dinner, only to have the restaurant reject her debit card. Without asking anyone where the nearest ATM is, she runs off into the night looking for one. She returns sometime later with cash and a large gash on her arm. She may have won this battle, but she is far from winning the war.
Of all her friends, Frances is the one who has the least going for her. That doesn’t seem to matter, because all of them are in varying states of decay as well. If Frances is frustrating, her friends are downright unlikable. Some seem better off than others, but conversation give away the lack of composure in their lives. I kept waiting for one of the characters to see through Frances’s charade, tell her to calm down, and have a real conversation about her hopes and dreams. This moment never comes, because Frances is surrounded by characters even more self-centered than she is. They never take the time to stop and really ask if she is okay. Twenty-something white kids living in New York with affluent parents elsewhere. When they run out of money, a simple call to Mommy or Daddy will bail them out. Only Benji (Michael Zegen) has a notion of what is really going on. When Frances whines about being poor, he admonishes her, “You’re not poor. Saying that is an insult to poor people.” He’s right, Frances is broke, but she’s far from poor.
Frances Ha is a scathing critique of the Millenial’s attitude and their multiple false starts and many stalls. In this regard, it excels, but it also held me back. There are some very funny moments, and there are moments of poignant insight (the dinner scene where Frances begins to unravel is quite memorable), but the whole endeavor is acidic to the touch. There is almost too much to think about to ever really get carried away by the characters or the plot. I don’t suppose that immersion is the point here. I’m not sure what the point is, or if Frances Ha, or any movie ever needs a point, but those lovely tracking shots of Frances dancing her way down a New York street with David Bowie blaring on the soundtrack is good enough for me. That is as good a reason as any to make a movie.