This charming comedy tells the story of a woman who doesn’t realize how immature she is—or that she was supposed to grow up. When we meet Frances (co-screenwriter Greta Gerwig), she is a 27-year-old modern dancer New York City who is still sharing an apartment with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), her best friend from college. Frances and Sophie are as close as peas in a pod; when they’re together, it’s like they never left school. It’s more than that: They’re like sisters. We see them making their way around the big city without a care in the world, pulling pranks, acting out and generally having a wonderful time.
When Frances’ boyfriend asks her to move in with him, she’s flummoxed: How could she leave Sophie? (They quickly break up.) When, shortly thereafter, Sophie has the opportunity to leave Brooklyn for Manhattan and live with a different roommate, she takes it—and Frances is completely flummoxed, again.
While Sophie has a “real” job with a publishing company, Frances is still an apprentice to dance company who is paid by the performance. We quickly learn that Frances doesn’t have much income, and, in a hilarious shot of her post-Sophie apartment, that she doesn’t really own anything. (All of her stuff is piled up/strewn about on the floor.)
What follows is Frances’ tortured, comical road to self-discovery as she moves from place to place, subletting space from sundry acquaintances and sometime friends. We see what she can’t: While she is a fine dancer, she’s wrong for the troupe she’s apprenticed to and will never become a full-time member of the company. And that while she’s charming and funny and makes friends easily, Frances hasn’t developed an appreciation for boundaries. And, finally, that it was her sense of complete happiness and contentment living with Sophie and being just an apprentice—staying “young”—that caused her to stagnate.
Director (and co-screenwriter) Noah Baumbach reveals all this through context: Frances goes home for Christmas; Frances has an unsettling dinner with very settled 30-somethings; Frances uses a brand-new credit card go to Paris on a whim. (The latter is the comic highlight of the film, and has two delicious payoffs.) Finally, Frances retreats to her old college stomping grounds in Poughkeepsie.
And yet, for all the comedy the filmmaker and star find in the heroine’s haplessness, there’s no contempt shown for Frances. We still like her, and want her to succeed. Her path to self-awareness may be bumpy and occasionally unpleasant, but Frances gets there—and we all cheer her on.