Greta Gerwig’s quintessential humour and wit have been shining brightly through the teasers, trailers, and promotion of Barbie. Even though we know very little about Margot Robbie’s Barbie, apart from her fourth-wall-breaking journey from her pastel prison to the real world, Gerwig fans familiar with her oeuvre understand what to expect from this multistarrer, at least in terms of the mood and energy.
But if you are unfamiliar with the Gerwig vibes beyond Lady Bird and Little Women, you must catch this essential Greta Gerwig film currently streaming on Netflix, Frances Ha.
Gerwig starred in and co-wrote the story of Frances Ha. The title itself is a cheeky nod to the titular character’s (and perhaps Gerwig’s own) incomplete odyssey through life. Gerwig’s partner in life and cinematic collaboration, Noah Baumbach directed and co-wrote the film.
Frances Ha follows Gerwig’s Frances, a 27-year-old dancer living in New York City. When her best friend Sophie announces her plans to move with a different friend to a different neighbourhood, one Frances had her heart set on, Frances’s life is thrown into upheaval. Struggling to afford her Brooklyn apartment, she relocates to Chinatown while grappling with her own career challenges. Through impulsive trips to Paris, her hometown, and her alma mater, Frances eventually reconnects with Sophie and forges her own path in life while pursuing her happiness.
Despite being in black and white—shot extensively in the style of French Nouvelle Vague cinema—Frances Ha is vibrant. Frances Ha brought a flawed but sparkling protagonist to life, navigating the struggles and ennui of young adulthood and fledgling friendships with an ironic sense of humour. It was an exploration of unbothered women traversing the labyrinthine corridors of self-discovery with a dash of mirth and oodles of self-awareness.
At the time, flawed female characters were breaking onto television with shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls—also set in New York and released in 2012. Issa Rae’s Insecure, Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s Broad City followed shortly after with their coterie of funny, fully-realised women on-screen.
Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice was one of the many critics who were all praises for Gerwig’s performance, “It’s a relief that Frances Ha isn’t as assertively frank, in the ‘Look, ma, no shame!’ way, as Girls. And this is partly Gerwig’s vision, too. No other movie has allowed her to display her colours like this. Frances is a little dizzy and frequently maddening, but Gerwig is precise in delineating the character’s loopiness: Her lines always hit just behind the beat, like a jazz drummer who pretends to flub yet knows exactly what’s up.”
Frances Ha served as a stepping stone in Gerwig’s career, a film that showcased her range as both an actor and a writer. But it also captured and catapulted the overall feminist zeitgeist of the time when a whole force of indomitable Millennial women were stepping into their own coming-of-age reckonings; when their own lives were also brimming with endless possibilities.