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The Undate-able Frances Ha

Without the complications of a sexual relationship, Noah Baumbach's film Frances Ha is reminiscent of Woody Allen's film Annie Hall. Or rather Greta Gerwig's rendering of the character Frances Ha reminds the Dresser of Diane Keaton's rendering of Annie Hall. There is something uniquely wonderful and whacky about how Frances and Annie approach the challenges of life in New York City. Both seem more suited for the laidback life of California where a young woman can behave in irresponsible ways that East coast rigor does not sanction.

Blond, trying-to-make-it-as-a-modern-dancer Frances, in fact, is a Californian and, among the places she travels to in the film, we see her quick trip home to her loving family in Sacramento after best friend brunette Sophie (played by Mickey Sumner) moves out of their shared apartment. Sophie, whom Frances refers to and her herself as "same person with different hair," explains she (Sophie) is just following her dream to live in Tribeca. No matter this abandonment puts Frances in a bad financial predicament if not an emotional fugue. The movie, filmed in black and white, is heavy on talk, the kind of talk young people exchange in trying to figure out how to live, how to succeed, or just how to survive.

The reality is that Gerwig, who helped Baumbach write the script of Frances Ha, is a native of Sacramento and the parents of Frances are the real life, non-actor parents of Greta Gerwig--Christine and Gordon Gerwig, respectively a nurse and a financial consultant/computer programmer. So the way Frances behaves is enhanced by Gerwig's participation in writing the script.

The film is filled with reversals and little surprises. Initially, the Dresser wondered if Frances and Sophie were lovers because Frances often says she loves Sophie and one of the early scenes shows Frances visiting with Sophie in her bed. However, these young women are just typical of their Millennial generation with no inhibitions about crossing gender role lines. Initially, Sophie is depicted as the reasonable other half of Frances, that is, until Sophie shows up at their alma mater (both women went to the same college in upstate New York), where Frances has taken a demeaning summer job. Sophie becomes shit-faced drunk, spurns her fiancé, promises to stay with Frances, and says things she absolutely doesn't mean both to Frances and her fiancé.

Sophie's fiancé Patch (Patrick Heusinger) is a huge shock to Frances, who doesn't want things to change between her and her best bud. Although Frances says she doesn't like Patch and later tries to take back what she said, the Dresser sees him as an amazingly mature young man who does not give up on the drunken Sophie when she completely disrespects him in a scene over the need to depart for his grandmother's funeral.

And Frances is desirable to the opposite sex (early in the movie she refuses a beaux's offer to move in with him and be a couple) but her post-Sophie roommate Benji (Michael Zegen), who is attracted to her, nails the problem and pronounces her "undate-able." It's this living-in-the-past thing like the nostalgia Americans have for making the scene in Paris, no matter the cost. So for two days Frances, without pre-planning and without enough money, escapes to Paris and totally misses connecting with the one person she knows there.

While there is no resolution to this stream of images in this coming-of-age tale, the Dresser assumes the truncated Frances Ha (Dear Reader, you will get the double meaning of this by the end of the film) will some how manage to move on with her life. Meanwhile, the Dresser will savor the irrational Frances who tries to engage a new female roommate in a playful fight reminiscent of behavior she engaged in with Sophie.

In Michelle Chan Brown's poem "Autobiography (II)," a young woman presumably of Chinese heritage (the author is half Chinese) is being counseled by her mother on the subject of how to behave with others and especially men who might well be "the enemy." However, the subject is fraught since it is the daughter relaying the mother's words. By the end of the poem, the daughter is addressing a lover asking that this person "Gather me up." It is a take-me-as-I-am plea where the daughter seems to be on fire and needs to be watered. While Frances Ha lives in Chinatown, New York, and seems to have a Chinese surname, things aren't as they appear and indeed like the advice of Brown's mother in "Autobiography (II)," a spoken universal adage to her daughter, or any daughter like Frances Ha, that one must believe in what you do not see--such intangibles as love, faith, good luck, and maturity.


My mother said: Please no one except the enemy.
Listen. Take your hat off.

Your bracelets. Your spectacles, your smell of exits.

.............. The coat with the military buttons.
The cheongsam, the cashmere cardigan, the burqua,
..... the lipstick (China Red) the ash blond hairpiece dubbed money--

.................................................into the drawer.
.............................................................It's warm here,
....................... by the fire, and my fingers are dirtied from the ashes.
......... Please clean them.
The dishes loll over the sink. They're ready to crack. Please solder them.

..........................................The drowsing jade plants. Please water them.

That bag of old tricks, wearing my black hair,
........ my strawberry birthmark, my yellow bodysuit:
.................. Please set her on fire.

Gather me up
... in your arms and water me until I'm wearing the slicker over nothing.

I'm wearing cleavage.
My promises drip down my haunches,
sludge & tallow. ................... Yes, yellow

Reads crafty, means fear.

.................. My mother said: Believe in what you do not see.

by Michelle Chan Brown
from Double Agent

Copyright © 2012 Kore Press


Comments (1)

Thanks, Karren, for this posting! I loved "Frances Ha" and have been trying to fully recall a statement made near the end of the film -- something like "It's nice when something you thought was a mistake turns out to be . . ."

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