As I sat down to finally watch the much acclaimed Noah Baumbach film, ‘Frances Ha’, I received an email. It was one of the most dreaded emails a writer can get — the rejection. It was for an editing job I had high hopes for, but I didn’t get in. At the precise moment, as I felt beaten, done, and dusted, the silly smile of Greta Gerwig’s Frances filled the screen, as she talks to her best friend Sophie about apartments, boyfriend (who is only referred to as Patch; an odd sort of a name) and dancing classes. In minimalist, gorgeous black and white frames, Baumbach establishes the minimalist, crumbling world of the protagonist, Frances. She has grown old, but oddly, hasn’t grown up. A particular line sticks, beautifully delivered by Gerwig, in typical mumblecore film fashion. Frances says, while her debit card gets declined, “I am so embarrassed. I am not a real person, yet.”
I laughed. Then I laughed some more. I realised that Frances’s journey is every dreamy artist’s journey — including myself — who throws themselves head-first into their aspirations, without accountability or consequence. It’s a funny and tragic self-immolation and it comes at a cost of becoming either a social pariah or the butt of all the jokes. Frances Halladay falls somewhere in the middle, which saves her life and sanity.
Frances calls herself a dancer, while she isn’t one yet. She is an apartment hopping freebird, calling no place her true home. She clings to temporary joys, falls from grace often, very easily, and then when her joys turn to sadness, she lets go of it too easily. Frances is imperfect, broken, gleeful, gullible — everything an artist is.
Her exact antithesis is Benji — played with consummate perfection by Michael Zegen, recently seen in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Benji is unabashed in his irreverence, thinks he can sell a script to Saturday Night Live, thinks he can sell a Gremlins movie. Whether he does these things or not are irrelevant in the larger scope of things. We’re concerned with Frances.
After her trysts with the world, including a particularly lavish, unimportant trip to Paris, Frances truly realises, that, perhaps, clinging permanently to an art-form she wasn’t very good at wouldn’t help her at all. It was affecting her and the people around her, especially her best friend, Sophie.
Funnily enough, the ending scared me a little. But it also allowed me some introspection. Frances Ha is a glorious testament to the fragile, artistic will. It is, in the end, about settling down, the great undoer of the artist. But it also teaches that there is no harm in settling down.
One can at least pay the bills.