Sometimes Zelda and I struggle with what to write about for these Friday posts. It’s hard to come up with something that’s relevant both to our lives and to the mission statement of our blog. I was struggling with this very problem this week, so Zelda suggested that I watch Frances Ha, and write something inspired by the film. I agreed.
I was wary to begin with, which may have contributed to my overall feelings about the film. I have trouble stomaching the sort of “Indie Hipster Millennial Existentialism” thing that seems to be popular nowadays. But Zelda assured me that it wouldn’t be all “sitting around smoking cigarettes and bemoaning Derrida,” except when they’re making fun of those who do (there was however talk of Proust and Virginia Woolf, which did not seem entirely in jest). So in I dove — added it to the Netflix queue, and finally pressed play Tuesday morning.
But despite both critical acclaim and Zelda’s assurances, I didn’t love it. That’s not to say that I hated the movie — I did watch all 86 minutes — but I didn’t feel like a lot happened, and I didn’t find it all that enjoyable. First off, the movie is, supposedly, a comedy, but I found very few things funny. Now I could forgive this. I wasn’t really there for the comedy: I was there for the inspiration. Zelda had assured me the film really spoke to the whole “living in New York and being young and trying to find yourself” thing we discuss on this blog. So I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, lack of giggles aside.
On a few of those counts, it did deliver. Titular Frances goes through housing struggles, job struggles, being on the subway platform only to realize your train isn’t running struggles. The movie does capture some of the feeling of being in New York, especially as a fledgling adult. But our protagonist breezes over it all with such ease that I don’t find it believable. We don’t see Frances confronting her struggles so much as we see her avoid them. My reservations aside, I felt like she could have dealt with shit more. Girl was in serious need of a “look at your life, look at your choices” moment.
The whole idea behind the film is that Frances is trying to make it as a modern dancer, and she’s struggling — creatively, financially, philosophically. But we never really see those struggles, or at least I never felt any sort of catharsis with her as she flitted from one apartment to the next, from temp gig to temp gig. Things always seemed to fall into her lap, a deus ex machina to scoop her out of the jaws of a reality check. I didn’t feel like there was ever a moment where she confronted things, was forced to stare down the barrel of cold hard reality, and I wanted that moment.
I wanted Frances to break down. I wanted her to have that moment where you try not to break into tears on public transportation but inevitably do, because this city is so god damn hard to live in. I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t had some sort of break down on MTA, and Zelda and I both certainly fit the bill. When I’m thinking about money, or the hour+ commute back to my apartment in Brooklyn late at night, or the eight cover letters I sent out this week only to get responses from no one, I can’t help but want to talk about it, to yell, or rant or text, or to cry. There are so many people and things and pressures in this city that I can’t just breeze over. It’s too much.
Maybe it stems from years of therapy and attempting to maintain my own mental health by talking about it, but to me the essential problem of the film was that everything got wrapped up neatly in a little bow at the end without much conflict at all, at least not internally. Frances has a fight with her best friend, she leaves New York for a while, she makes up with said friend, she comes back to New York, and she’s suddenly having a showcase of a piece she choreographed? This is definitely a plot of some kind, but I felt like I was waiting the whole movie for the real story to start. The whole thing seemed more like an extensive exposition setting up the protagonist’s life — just snippet after snippet of things that happened to her all strung together.
True, in that way, it was incredibly realistic — these little slices of Frances’s life — and I guess some people found it relatable (Zelda among them), but I didn’t connect to our angsty heroine. I didn’t empathize. I didn’t care. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Everything about her seemed like it was on the surface, and if she didn’t care about things, why would I?
I want to be clear that Frances Ha is not a bad movie. Critically, it’s supposedly a very good movie, and aesthetically I enjoyed it as well. The soundtrack is great, and the direction and cinematography are nice to look at. It just didn’t do what I wanted it to. Zelda tells me she came out of this film feeling like it “spoke to me and had such a powerful message of friendship and finding yourself and then my roommate and I went leaping down the sidewalk.” I wanted that, but it just never happened.
And I think that actually brings up an important point: You don’t have to like the same things your friends do. Obviously, a lot of friendships are based on mutual interests, but that doesn’t mean you have to love everything your bestie does. Zelda and I like a lot of the same things: our hometown, our neighborhood in Bushwick, John Green books, Veronica Mars and Parks and Rec, Aaron Tveit. But there are a lot of things we don’t agree on as well.
Zelda and I have encountered this problem more than once lately: specifically regarding her favorite author (as featured in Wednesday’s GRITS), Donna Tartt. While Zelda adores her, I have yet to make my way fully through a single one of Tartt’s books. I’m trying really hard because so many people I love also love them (Zelda, my mother, etc.), but I’m just not connecting. And if that’s still true when I (hopefully) finish The Goldfinch, that’s okay. Zelda’s still going to be my best friend if I don’t like her favorite author. She’s still mine even though she doesn’t appreciate the wonder of the 1992 Christian Bale classic Newsies, or the lyrical and melodic beauty of Matt Nathanson’s music. And maybe that’s the powerful message of friendship that I got from Frances Ha. Love, platonic or otherwise, means agreeing to disagree.