Over a decade ago, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett coined the phrase “emerging adulthood” to describe the prolonged adolescence that’s recently become a trend among young adults of the millennial age. Speaking from experience, there’s certainly a bevy of meandering for people in their mid to late twenties nowadays, and Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” beautifully captures that period in life. From protagonist Frances’ financial and career woes to her doubts regarding her move to the big city, to the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies fading relationships, when two friends are trying to negotiate the fact that they’re changing in opposite directions, this movie speaks to the here and now of us.
“Frances Ha” is somber without the sadness, funny without the hijinks, compelling without pretension, and charming without being cloying. Much of that charm is thanks to the star-making (should have been anyways) performance by Greta Gerwig as the titular character, a twenty-seven year-old woman still trying to figure it all out, and doing so in Manhattan no less, a concrete jungle brimming with ids and egos that’ll run her down if she lets them. Along her journey to some semblance of a satisfactory life, even if she never lets the lack of one produce anything close to tears, she befriends a myriad of people that shape her present, and perhaps her future. Adam Driver as a self-obsessed but endearing hipster, Michael Zegen as her eventual roommate and maybe (?) soul mate, and Mickey Sumner as Sophie, the BFF who’s always been there, until she’s suddenly not anymore. Shot on location in gorgeous black-and-white, the film is more or less a collage of moments during one year of Frances’ life, conveying the fears and aspirations of a generation whose post-college tenure was and is more internally trying than that of generations’ past.
With no posturing in the name of “here’s a theme, ladies and gentlemen,” compromise is presented as the touchstone of this trying-to-find-yourself trek, be it compromise in relationships, compromise in career, or compromise in social status. For some, accepting compromise is the only path to one’s own happiness. Not everyone becomes an affluent artist or a famous dancer. And although a happy ending here is somewhat unearned on the heels of a meandering plot, the meandering plot is meant to mimic the torturous and exciting melee that is emerging adulthood. “Frances Ha” is a relatable encapsulation of that very feeling. As Frances herself says in one scene, “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.” Not yet. Not yet.