Lessons We Can Learn From Frances Ha

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Frances Ha
Frances Ha

As a new Frances Ha photo book is released, we learn some life lessons from Noah Baumbach's beloved film

If you are, or ever have been, a twentysomething struggling to etch out your niche in the world, it’s likely that Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach’s “mumblecore” masterpiece, will strike a resonant chord. “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet,” Greta Gerwig’s awkward and utterly loveable protagonist declares, in a painfully relatable moment of reflection.

Released in 2012, the film was scripted by Baumbach and Gerwig (who fell in love while shooting Baumbach’s earlier film Greenberg) and bears the former’s signature trademark of being brilliantly funny while simultaneously shedding light on life’s sadder, lonelier moments. Beautifully shot in black and white and intended as an homage to classic French cinema, it follows aspiring, 27-year-old dancer Frances Handley as she tries to build a “grown-up” life in New York –gaining and losing jobs, friends, apartments and boyfriends along the way. Now, a new book from SteidlDangin – comprised of one frame per scene of the film – captures its romantic spirit and gives us a welcomed opportunity to revisit a favourite. So in celebration of the book and Frances Ha herself, we discover the film’s most valuable lessons.

1. Do dance in the street 
Whether it’s turning up a favourite song to ear-splitting levels and breaking into a run/dance in the street or indulging in a play fight with your best friend, one of Frances Ha’s key lessons is to enjoy yourself and take a minute to appreciate the small but important moments in your day. As Frances’s flatmate Benji notes, “I ate an egg bagel that Lev’s slut made me. I internet-acquired three pairs of very rare Ray Bans. I’m doing awesome.”

2. Don’t travel long distance on a whim
We’re all tempted to up and run the moment things get tough – especially given how easy it is to spontaneously relocate yourself to a city thousands of miles away these days – but without careful planning, such an action rarely ends well. This is a lesson that Frances learns the hard way when she uses a credit card she received in the mail to take a last-minute weekend trip to Paris (she has to be back for a meeting on Monday). Hoping to hang out with two Paris-based friends but unable to reach them, she ends up spending a very lonely couple of days roaming the city before gloomily heading home. Advice: when struck by a haphazard (disguised as romantic) impulse to flee, lock up your passport.

3. Friendships evolve, but the real ones last forever
Much of the film centres on Frances and her best friend Sophie’s changing relationship as Sophie gets a serious boyfriend and the previously inseparable duo (“we’re like the same person with different hair”) veer off on different paths. This is a real home-hitter to those who have experienced the rude interruption of love to a best friendship, and when you’re the single one left behind it’s not much fun. But as Frances Ha teaches us, you can’t stop friendships from changing but you can learn to accept the changes and understand that, while the hours spent together may lessen, the bond between real friends remains indelible.

4. “What do you do?” is a boring question
This point is one that Frances notes aloud, at the aforementioned grown-up dinner party, to fellow guest Andy. And not only is “what do you do?” a boring question, it’s also an incredibly awkward one when what you’re trying to do isn’t actually what you’re doing, as the young dance apprentice discovers when the question is returned to her. “It’s kinda hard to explain,” she stumbles. To which Andy enquires, “Because what you do is complicated?” “Eh…” Frances replies, “Because I don’t really do it.” 

5. Sometimes it’s good to do what you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to do it 
This line is slipped in when Frances bumps into Benji in the street, and refers to her amusing desire to read Proust before heading to Paris the next day. But it is in many ways the crux of the film, and a key lesson to learn in life. When Frances is offered a job as a receptionist at her dance company, rather than a place in the touring troupe as she’d hoped, she initially turns her nose up at it, as well as the head’s recommendation that she pursues choreography. She wants to be a dancer, and that’s that; who cares if she has to be homeless and hopeless in the meantime? But it is only when she finally accepts this advice, and does what she “should” be doing, that she finds purpose, happiness and, dare we be as cheesy as to say, herself?

Frances Ha is available now, published by SteidlDangin.