Arriving at one's late 20s is a chronological coup d'état that some find impossible to overcome. In Frances Ha, Frances (Greta Gerwig) is not quite aware that this is what she is going through until her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), tells her she's planning to move out of their Brooklyn apartment in favor of a chicer location in Tribeca. Considering the near lesbianic rapport they share (of which Frances jokes about), the trauma of this separation forces Frances to discover who she is without Sophie and what she truly wants out of life.
Directed and co-written by Noah Baumbach (known for his collaborations with Wes Anderson, as well as The Squid and the Whale), the movie is shot in Woody Allenesque black and white--not to mention written in Woody Allenesque dialogue. The black and white technique is, of course, integral to both the quintessential New York feel, in addition to projecting the same sort of gritty rawness that Frances embodies. As she grapples with the idea of actually moving out of the apartment she can no longer afford without Sophie's help, Frances is given the magical windfall of a tax return that prompts her to ask out Lev (Adam Driver), a mutual friend of Sophie's who once texted Frances "Ahoy sexy."
Lev and Frances’ date is classically bad, with Frances exhibiting the sort of awkwardness that toes the line between endearing and annoying. She even offers to pay for the entire dinner (she did, after all, just get a tax return), but this generosity backfires when her card is declined and she has to search frantically for an ATM. It is one of the most hilarious, New York-specific scenes in the movie, detailing the extreme effort that goes into finding any sort of cash dispensing machine and the ensuing struggle to accept that you’re going to be charged three dollars extra to take money out. Nonetheless, Frances still finds herself back at Lev’s apartment, though, at this juncture, the date has turned utterly platonic. Soon, Ben (Michael Zegen), Lev’s roommate, returns with two friends—instantly connoting a party—and confirms Lev’s offer for Frances to stay at their place for 950 a month (ridiculous, but somehow standard in New York).
The most iconic scene in the film—and perhaps eventually one of the most iconic scenes in cinema—occurs as Frances dances her way to her new Chinatown apartment while David Bowie’s “Modern Love” plays in the background. As Frances grows vaguely accustomed to life without Sophie now that she’s used to the ways of Ben and Lev (both “artists” with parental benefactors), she finds herself thinking about Sophie when one of Lev’s conquests mentions that she saw her and Patch (Patrick Heusinger), Sophie's boyfriend, recently. Realizing that her life is still missing something without Sophie, she invites her over to see the new place. Sophie is only mildly impressed when she comes over, noting that “The only people who can afford to live as artists in New York are the ones being supported by their parents.” The strain on their friendship is palpable as they try to navigate how to be around one another now that they’re not spending most of their waking moments together.
In the meantime, Frances’ dance career has stalled due to the company’s lack of funds to employ her as anything other than an apprentice. This news comes right before Christmas—just in time for Frances to flee to her hometown of Sacramento (a terrible milieu that Gerwig hails from as well, which may be the only reason the city makes a cameo in the film). This news forces Frances to move out of Ben and Lev’s apartment and crash on another friend’s couch for the next month. At a dinner party she attends with said friend one night, Frances is offered a place to stay in Paris whenever she wants, prompting her to use that credit card she got in the mail and take a weekend trip.
Watching Frances roam the streets of Paris alone in search of some form of meaning is one of the most pivotal moments of the story. Because, even though her loneliness is present, it is as though she has made some sort of peace with it. Sophie happens to catch her on the phone during one of these moments to tell her about her move to Tokyo with Patch. It is during this call that Frances confesses her love for her—but it is not sexual love, merely a love that expresses the deepest admiration and respect for another person.
As Gerwig herself noted of the film, “[It's] a love story about girls. It’s a girl who’s in love with her best friend, but not sexually. It’s sort of that moment when you realize, 'Oh, so we won’t all move in together,' and you’re going to move on with your life.'" The title of the movie ultimately reveals itself at the story’s conclusion, displaying Frances’ true last name as she places it on her new mailbox and is forced to shorten it to “Ha.” This gesture unearths so much about the character herself—someone who is able to take life as it comes and make her own meaning of it when necessary.