Review by Judy Silber
In high school, I had a best friend named Leslie. It was a little complicated because Leslie’s true best friend was not I, but another friend named Lisa. Still, in my mind Leslie was my special someone. We went running together on the beach and hung out at each other’s homes. Her family invited me for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and she came with mine on ski vacations. In my mind, she was nearly perfect. She was brilliant and also beautiful with a bob haircut, winning smile and even-keeled personality that did not riffle easily, or ever. Just knowing her elevated my self-esteem. The friendship also provided a balm, a place of rest where I felt safe. For all of that, I admired and loved her.
Often in movies, women bond over a righteous wrong. Or find companionship in each other when romantic relationships go south. But Frances Ha (2012) highlights another kind of friendship that’s rarely, if ever acknowledged: that of best friends in love.
Frances Ha follows the life of Frances. a young woman who aspires to live out the dream she and her best friend Sophie hatched in college. She will be a dancer, Sophie a distinguished publicist and they will always be best friends. The lead role of Frances is played by Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the film with Noah Baumbach. Baumbach, who is known most recently for Marriage Story, directs. The film also includes a supporting role by Adam Driver nominated for his lead role in Marriage Story.
When the film starts, Frances and Sophie share a Brooklyn apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a modern dance company where she must lurk like a bothersome shadow studying the movements of the company dancers. The two friends do everything together. They play fight in the park. They smoke while sitting in adjacent windows of their apartment. It’s a platonic, but intimate relationship. Francis rests her head in Sophie’s lap as they return home on the subway. They often sleep in the same bed, though Sophie requests that Frances remove her socks.
For Frances, Sophie is it. When Frances’ boyfriend asks her to move in, she turns him down. “I can’t,” she tells him. “I have to stay with Sophie.” But instead of renewing the lease as Frances had hoped, Sophie tells her that she’s moving in with another friend. “You know I’ve always wanted to live there,” says Sophie about the new neighborhood of Tribeca. At this point it becomes clear that whereas Frances prioritizes Sophie above all else, Sophie is lining up the next phase of her life. It leaves Frances navigating New York’s high priced housing market—and her life—on her own. Hatched from the Sophie/Frances cocoon, she’s lost at first. But after making one especially bad decision, she then confronts it, starts to grow up and find her own solid ground.
The film is shot in black and white, giving it an artistic whimsy that matches the flighty seriousness of Frances. We float from scene to scene just as Frances drifts from one living situation to another.
It’s the special friendship that can survive the transition through young adulthood. New priorities emerge: boyfriends, new friends, family and career. In my relationship with Leslie, I would feel abandoned, dropped off and truth be told, a little mad. It would take years for the friendship to die off, but die off eventually it did. Frances and Sophie appear to be headed in that direction, but…well, I’m not going to tell you what happens. Instead, I recommend that you watch Frances Ha and find out for yourself.