When the second teaser for Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated Barbie dropped last month, I had the following takeaways: “Wow, this looks as amazing as I thought it would be!” “Ryan Gosling can still get it,” “Why is this remix of The Beach Boys’ ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ giving me chills?” and most prominently, “I cannot believe the same people who wrote this also wrote Frances Ha.”
Thinking back on that last thought, I realize that it actually makes total sense that Gerwig and her writing/romantic partner Noah Baumbach crafted this massive tentpole together. Although both films are radically different on the surface — Frances Ha is an indie, black-and-white, French New Wave-inspired flick and Barbie is a mainstream, colorful, star-studded adaptation of a wildly popular IP — the scant plot details from Barbie seem to vaguely mirror Frances Ha’s plot: a woman trying to find her autonomy and identity in a world that obfuscates such desires.
Celebrating its theatrical release’s 10th anniversary this week, Frances Ha marked a major creative turning point for Gerwig and Baumach, who began their collaboration when Gerwig starred in Baumbach’s 2010 film Greenberg and entered a romantic partnership with him a year later. The 2013 dramedy prophesized not only the enduring appeal of Gerwig and Baumbach’s richly observational work, but also the eternal relatability of their preoccupations with finding joy, intimacy, and stability in a cynical, cold, overwhelmingly chaotic reality.
Gerwig herself stars in Frances Ha as the titular, financially flailing New York-based dancer whose best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) decides to move from Brooklyn to Tribeca. As she’s forced to embark on an odyssey for a new place to live — including a brief stint in Chinatown with pre-Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Michael Zegen and Adam Driver in the thick of his Girls fame — Frances only grows more restless and broke, especially when her dancing apprenticeship doesn’t lead her to any prospects and Sophie suddenly shacks up with her boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger).
Frances Ha nails so much of what makes life in your 20s both uniquely challenging and unexpectedly freeing. Frances’s uneventful getaway to Paris articulates the near-constant impulsive decisions we make to compensate for a lack of structure, while her return home to Sacramento and her visit to her alma mater as a summer RA illustrate the need for comfort from our past, when nothing in our present circumstances can ground us.
Frances’s dread and aimlessness also pull her further apart from Sophie too, with their mutual yearning for economic mobility in a post-recession landscape straining their platonic love for one another. It’s an issue that still affects young people today, myself and my peers included — this persistent anxiety of needing to prioritize labor over anything else just to get by.