To be young, rootless and struggling— but oh, the possibilities!

Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha’

3 minute read
Gerwig (right), Mickey Sumner: An invisible world of love, freedom and creativity.
Gerwig (right), Mickey Sumner: An invisible world of love, freedom and creativity.
While watching Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, I was struck by the repetition of the word "magic."

I counted three instances in which Frances, the heroine played by Greta Gerwig, uses that word to describe the world around her: First when Frances describes her new (very wealthy) artist friends, Benji and Lev, as "magic" after they offer her a potential connection to dance in a friend's music video; then, after Lev coyly prances by Frances and her best friend, Sophie, in nothing but a towel, Frances turns to Sophie and exclaims "he's totally magic"; and lastly, contemplating a trip to Paris, she dreamily remarks, "Paris must be magic."

At first these usages seemed as undiscerning and detached as adjectives like "cool" or "awesome." But ultimately it became clear that these separate moments are linked together by an understated but underlying credo that propels Frances's life forward, each instance offering a window into her mind.

Her "'third dimension'

This isn't to say that Frances Ha moves smoothly from point A to B, that Frances follows a single path or philosophy, or that her character— 27 years old and struggling to get by in New York City as a dancer— would be able to articulate what "magic" means to her in the first place.

In fact, the closest Frances comes to expressing a philosophy occurs after she blunders through a dinner party with stiff upper-class New Yorkers, in which she speaks of what she's looking for in a relationship (adding as an afterthought what she may also be looking for in life). In an unexpectedly beautiful moment, Frances says that she wants the kind of love in which two people can look at each other from across a party and feel totally connected, though the love existing in the space between them is unknown to everyone else in the room. That, she says, is the invisible "third dimension" she seeks: that which exists but cannot be observed.

The film doesn't dwell on this moment for long, though it's a moment I found myself returning to, wondering: What is this third dimension?

Rejected credit card

This invisible world Frances speaks of apparently includes many things we can't see: love, yes, but also creativity, freedom, possibility and everything that transcends the static material world. This is the dimension in which Frances finds the money to visit Paris at the last minute; to see Lev and Benji's artistic endeavors as more than contingent on their parents' money; to find a couch to crash on when she has nowhere else to go. Though she doesn't say it overtly, this dimension she speaks of could also be described as the realm of magic.

In one hilarious scene, Frances's credit card is rejected while she's out to dinner with Lev. "I'm so embarrassed," she exclaims. "I'm not a real person yet." This is a young woman who exists somewhere between who she is and whom she wants to be.

Where other films about "20-somethings" see angst and insecurity, Frances Ha explores the freedom and beauty of feeling that you're not fully a part of the "real world" full of "real people" (a theme Baumbach also explored in his earlier film, Greenberg). She's a character who moves entirely to her own rhythm.

As the movie orbits around Frances, organized according to where she's staying— Manhattan, Brooklyn, Sacramento, Paris— the scenes from her life coalesce to form an expanding world that belongs entirely to her. It's a world that's unpredictable and not yet defined, but driven by a deep sense of possibility— of magic.

What, When, Where

Frances Ha. A film directed by Noah Baumbach, written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. For Philadelphia show times, click here.

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