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Frances Ha: A Fresh Kind of Fairy Tale

In Film on August 19, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Sarah T.

I was walking through a parking lot about a year ago when I passed two women in their late 60s. One was telling the other about her plan to submit a book review to the Boston Globe. “Hopefully they’ll like it,” she said.

“It sounds perfect for them,” her friend said. She had tortoise-shell glasses that made her look at once sophisticated and slightly goggle-eyed.

“I hope so,” the first woman said, and broke into a short, hard sob. “I just feel like I’ve spent the last thirty years messing everything up.”

Her friend wrapped her into a hug and offered to go chat over drinks–a solid response and a capital pal. Meanwhile I hurried into my car, feeling stricken. I like to imagine that people naturally accumulate more confidence as they get older, like the interest they’re supposed to earn on their 401(k)s. It’s reassuring to think that all the worrying about career trajectories and romantic partners and weird things you say at parties fades away with age. But here was a woman in her golden years, still scared she’d leave a lifetime of regrets behind her. “It’s never over,” I muttered, channeling Jeff Buckley, fumbling for my keys.


At the other end of my personal heartening spectrum is Frances–the unaffected goof played by Greta Gerwig in the movie Frances Ha. When the film, which Gerwig co-wrote with director Noah Baumbach, came out this summer, some critics responded with predictable think-pieces about the merits and drawbacks of movies featuring unlikable female characters. But by my lights, Frances is enormously likable. Bumbling, ambitious, and impulsive, she wards off unwanted advances by making a noise like a wrong-answer game show buzzer. In one scene, she starts running down the sidewalk, book bag slapping at her back, because the joy of being young in New York City has just washed over her. Who hasn’t felt that way once in a while, or wanted to?

Frances somersaults through her 27th year over the course of the film, losing friends and apartments and jobs, bleeding money, sleeping in too late, frequently sticking her foot in her mouth. What makes the movie remarkable is that Frances never lets any of these bad turns get her down for long. The movie is a fairy tale for women, which I mean in the best possible sense. Read the rest of this entry »