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My Perspective on ‘Frances Ha’ Has Really Changed With Age

"Frances, Undateable."

Frances enjoys a smoke as she talks to Sophie.

To be completely honest with you all, this has been…a year. It’s been a year! And in this past limbo week between Christmas and New Years, I’ve felt more than a little discombobulated. So, to cope with these feelings, I’ve decided to rewatch my favorite films en masse—starting with Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, where Gerwig starred as the eponymous Frances.

This is a film about a 27-year-old in New York who’s just trying to get by. A simple enough core plot, but the movie’s always had a special heart to it that is crucial to any “bildungsroman.” Frances is naive for her age, full of childlike glee and energy that just can’t seem to go anywhere that works in her favor. She is utterly devoted to her best friend Sophie, yet the plot hinges around the way her life falls apart when Sophie begins to move in new directions. It’s a very specific sort of film that took me a long time to really “get,” but every step of the way, I have tried, and I have come away with a new understanding of what the film means (both for me, and for the audience as a whole).

And now, I think I finally understand why this film is so special, and what makes it so compelling with every rewatch.

First Watch, Age 15

When I first saw it, I was a confused, depressed little Daria of a teenager, and my mom tried to combat this by taking me out to the Laemmle for a weekend. If you don’t know what a Laemmle is, it’s a chain of theaters that focus on arthouse and foreign films–two things that used to annoy me to no end, because I was raised on them yet hardly understood them, which was a point of insecurity for my young self. But Frances Ha was different.

Even then, I knew there was something to the film that I wanted to understand better. I watched the way my mom wiped tears off her cheek and then gave my shoulder a knowing squeeze, and it all told me, whether you know it or not, this film is important. Initially, this was very irksome for Little Me. Why did I want to be like an airhead like Frances? Why did I have to act happier than I was when the world was so unfair, nobody understands me, yada yada, etc.? I told myself I hated the film. And yet, it stuck with me.

Second Watch, Age 18

Years later, I’m a freshman in college, lying in my bed and trying to find ways to pass the time before I went home for winter break. I rewatch Frances Ha and suddenly, with euphoria, I realize that I’m starting to “get it.” The “it” that I was supposed to “get” was still sort of murky, but the clouds were parting, and I took what I could get. The main thing I took away was a validation of my solitary nature—a thing I’d been taught to reject, because I guess people aren’t supposed to like being alone? Or something?

It made early college a weird experience for me. I’d push myself to go out whenever I could, and my friends would tell me I was lucky to live in a dorm where there was always something happening; yet no matter how close I was getting to those around me, I’d come home after a long day to people doing god knows what in the bathroom, music blaring upstairs, and girls crying on my couch, and all I’d want to do was collapse in a puddle and fade away. I just wasn’t made for that sort of thing.

And rewatching Frances made me realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with that. I watched Fran fumble her way through a city full of people that didn’t really understand her, and I felt camaraderie with her awkward attempts to be a “grown-up.” I watched her do several things by herself, including going to Paris just to prove she can do it (only to end up feeling lonelier than ever). But the most important part of the film for me was the very end, when Frances finally stops crashing with other people and starts living by her beautiful self.

There’s a point where Frances smiles and exhales, finally at peace, and I remember doing the same watching her. At that age, all I really wanted was some peace and quiet. That wouldn’t really change, the older I got.

Third Watch, Age 23

I still strongly remember the beginning of 2020, when I was in my senior year and beginning to amass all these silly little ideas of what my life would look like once I graduated. I was leaving bad relationships behind and sinking my hands into the work I was doing at the time—good, fulfilling work that gave me a sense of purpose. I spent a lot of time with my favorite professors. I was even having something of a sexual renaissance to compensate for all the disappointments in my prior years.

And then, boom, COVID kicked down the door and said, “It’s me, bitch.”

On a night where all I could do was wallow in my own self-pity, I decided I’d rewatch “that goddamn movie” once again. I don’t even remember why, I just felt like it might provide me with some comfort. And ultimately, it did, with more poignancy than ever before. I cried for a long time after the movie ended, because all I could see was the life I was missing out on. Some of the greater nuances in the film were lost on me as I focused on the two things that were most relevant at the time: living in the city, and how it felt to lose a close friend. Quarantine tunnel vision was real.

Yet I still count this as a turning point, because the film no longer felt so foreign to me. There wasn’t anything I felt compelled to “get,” because I was finally at an age where it all made more sense. I didn’t relate to all of it quite yet, but it definitely made more sense. I felt triumphant, like I’d finally conquered some grand mystery in my life—the “meaning” of Frances Ha.

Of course, 23 wasn’t that old, and I wasn’t especially wise yet.

Fourth Watch, Age 25: Closing Thoughts

To be clear, 27 is not old. Lol.

I have a not-entirely-unreasonable theory that quarantine forced my age group to grow up a little faster. The dilly-dallying of generations past was no longer really an option for us, no shade intended (maybe a little envy, to be honest). We had to buck up and pool our resources together constantly, as rent prices were obscenely high and the job market continued to be ceaselessly merciless. For those still in school, it was harder than ever to prioritize one’s studies, and of course, we were trying not to get sick on top of everything else. With that being said, when I recently rewatched Frances Ha, I was a little baffled by our heroine’s … messiness?

It was as though I’d never seen the movie before. I was looking at it through completely new eyes. No longer was it a fanciful tale of youth and whimsy, it had become a startlingly frank look into what it’s like being in your twenties in the modern era. All of Frances’ struggles with rent, making money, finding new places to live, and just being a person having to deal with people—these are incredibly relatable, even down to taking an RA job at her alma mater just for temporary housing. And for the first time ever, I found myself actively critiquing her. Why couldn’t she just relax while talking to other people? What’s with the play-fighting? Why is she 27 and still acting the way she does? I kind of broke my own heart, listening to my internal monologue. I still loved Frances and rooted for her, but my perspective had entirely changed. All those years feeling a kinship with her character and this movie, only to turn around and shake my head.

But that’s kind of beautiful, right? It speaks to how soulful a movie like this is. The most (debatably) pretentious thing about it is that it’s in black and white but everything else is as genuine as it gets. Frances Ha is a movie that comes from the heart, and it portrays such a viscerally human experience that one can’t help but view it differently as we age. There are no smoke and mirrors here, nothing barring oneself from fully engaging with the story and its characters. It’s just a reflection of an experience that many go through, in one way or another.

In many ways, I feel like I’ve been marathoning with this movie my entire life, and now I’m finally caught up. Now I get to jog alongside it, and see how that feels. I can’t wait to get older and see what it looks like to look back at Frances Ha.

(Featured Image: IFC Films)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer and dog mom. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself. However, when she isn't writing, she can typically be found fighting the good fight against her lifelong insomnia. You can read her stuff at https://madelinecwrites.com/