5 December, 2023


Occasional Stories: The Story Of Frances Ha 

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

She is not a dancer, but a dancer. Frances Halladay is her name, but it is a mystery how she became ‘Ha,’ until the end of the story. I first thought it is an old movie, because it is black and white, but it is not. It was produced in 2012 and released in 2013. Its ‘black and white’ give a classic flavour to the moving picture frames, blended with several pop songs. One of which is ‘This little light of mine.’ You may listen to it here quite safely. 

Most attractive is Frances’ tall, slender figure, moving or running all the time, never missing a chance to smile, laugh or joke. 

This is simply a new type of comedy. It is American, but it depicts a universal theme going around among young women of new times who seek independence, affection, relationship, occupation and most of all, in this case, amusement. It may be little premature for Sri Lanka in certain aspects, but not in essence. I could see little bit of ‘Frances’ in the character of Abisheka in the Harakotiya teledrama, or Paba in the Paba teledrama.

Even in real life I have seen them emerging among university undergraduates, before I left after retirement, and mostly among Sri Lankan migrants in Australia. A known young woman, recently went around Latin America, all alone, meeting friends, visiting Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Peru, after saving some money from her first job. She came to our place to relate the adventure, perhaps in an exaggerated manner, talking nonstop. They don’t mean any harm to themselves or others, if they are brought up in an intelligent manner.

Frances also was brought up in such a caring family in Sacramento, California. You could meet the parents in the movie when Frances visits them for Christmas. They are very close, not physically, but emotionally. Father is also funny, like Frances. Frances is mostly in New York, when not moving. They live worlds apart, almost 2,500 miles is the distance from Sacramento to New York. Sacramento is also a city but compared to New York, it is a ‘village.’

This genuine ‘village’ trait is mostly visible in the manners and behaviour of the people that Frances acquainted with in Sacramento. That might be one reason why Frances has a more causal, carefree and openminded soul, compared to her, not so friendly friend, Sophie in New York. I also had my roommate at Peradeniya Campus from, ‘that time’ remote, Embiliyapitiya. He also was very frank and open and even witty unlike many of our urban folks or Colombians. 

The Story

The story starts in Brooklyn, New York, where Frances shares an apartment with Sophie, who was her ‘best friend.’ Perhaps they first met at Vassar College, a liberal arts college in New York, where Frances got her liking for just dancing. This is a hopeless venture, according to more professional and money minded Sophie.

Frances has already joined a dance company as an apprentice which does not give her much money. Sophie also wants to move to her dream neighbourhood, Tribeca, which Frances cannot afford. Rents are very expensive not to speak of other living costs in Tribeca. That is their breakup. Sophie wears glasses with thick lenses. Is that any indication of the character? Perhaps it is a common prejudice. Tribeca is very trendy, many celebrities living there. Sophie also now has a ‘professional’ boyfriend. 

Where does Frances move? China town of course! She lives with Leve and Benji, two boys in a shared apartment. Often there are various visitors, boys and girls, coming to sleep over. Frances didn’t mind very much given her casual life style. She is respected by others, like a Loku Akka (big sister). What is Frances’ age? Twenty something, she always says. She is in fact 27. Does she look for steady relationship. Yes, of course, she does but not with much success.

One interesting episode is when Frances goes for a ‘date’ with Benji to a restaurant. It was understood that the bill will be foot by Frances. Perhaps Benji is ‘hard up’ at that time. When it comes to paying, she apparently doesn’t have cash. This is a small restaurant where credit cards are not accepted. Then she runs to an ATM. She falls on her way, and even bruises her arm. She is a person who cannot walk slow. She always have to run. The relationship with Benji does not go much further.

It is this time that Christmas comes and Frances goes to Sacramento. She is now a big star to her old friends and relations, usually boasting about her adventures in New York. There are two significant episodes. She meets one of her old school friend, a boy – now a man, going to a dinner party with her partner, who is expecting a child. There is a kind of remorse on Frances’ part, still a spinster. But Frances is open, kind and well wishing to the couple. Second is when she meets another old friend, a girl or a woman, who is fortunately single, like Frances. What does she do? She plays with her, even trying to show her amateur Karate skills. This appears childish, but funny as it is enacted. There are of course ‘tomboy’ characteristics in Frances.

Going Broke

When family and friends ask about her next move, she says, she would be visiting Paris! Now she must. She does go to Paris, but only for two days, paying from her credit card, ultimately ending up virtually broke. It is a pity, no adventures in Paris. When she returns to New York, several bills waiting for her.

It is at this stage, that some realism comes to her mind. She finally goes to her old Vassar College and meets one of her old teacher/administrators. What is the job she gets? A job of a waitress in the college restaurant! She is nevertheless happy. At least she has some money coming. Then there is a former graduates’ party at the college, where she is a waitress and her old friend/enemy Sophie is a guest. This is the most hilarious episode, how she serves wine to the guests, mostly old batchmates or contemporaries, hiding her face.

Finally, she meets with Sophie, old grudges are now gone. They have a sleep over together. The College and Sophie help her to find a new job as a choreographer. She is now elated. Finally, finally, she achieves her mission not merely as a dancer but a choreographer. Her first ballet was a great success. The training sessions for the ballet and the actual performance are the most beautiful in the whole movie, of course if you are a fan of those things. Otherwise, no much meaning and no much enjoyment.

Now, Frances can afford a decent apartment. She must put down her name in the letter box. She writes down Frances Halladay in a strip of paper. But when it is inserted in the given space, it was too long. It can only afford Frances Ha. She is amused. Thereafter she becomes known as Frances Ha!

Cast and All That

Greta Gerwig stars as Frances. She and Noah Baumbach, who is the Director, have written the script. Mickey Sumner acts as Sophie, Frances’ friend/enemy. Frances parents are played by Gerwig’s real parents. This is a kind of an in-house or friend-group production.

Gerwig has performed in previous movies quite successfully. Her new foray, at least as a part-script writer, is considered as a new trend of female actors becoming writers or co-writers. This is something even Sri Lankan female actors could follow, if it is not initiated already.

More importantly, Frances character is something emerging in Sri Lanka as I have already mentioned. If you have a young daughter, you don’t need to worry too much. They don’t mean any harm to themselves or others, if they are brought up in an intelligent manner. 

Here is the official (safe) trailer for the movie:

Watch it now, because ‘it is good to do, what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do,’ as Frances says. I hope I got it right. Don’t try the full movie online unless it is absolutely safe.     


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Latest comments

  • 2

    Yet another free-spirited tale (for young women this time), to push the American cosmopolitan spirit onto the poor unsuspecting Lankan populous – America that indulged in colonization, immigration, slavery, war, more immigration, nuclear armaments, and more wars to create their monetary system, which gave rise to the meaning of greater-freedoms.

    • 4

      Qu’allez-vous imaginer là? What on earth are you thinking of?
      flotsam and jetsam, dross!

  • 8

    Dr Fernando,

    Now that you are strictly speaking politics let me be the first to attack.

    If you like the film, I’ll recommend any of Whit Stillman’s films. Most of all “Metropolitan.” A classic film about “Arty-Farty” crowd of any country/society. In Lanka, when I encounter them it takes a Herculean effort to keep a straight face. But with age I am getting better at it.

    “Chris Eigeman only plays one type of character, but he does it better than anyone else. As an erudite know-it-all in Kicking and Screaming, Mr Jealousy (1997) and Highball (1997), he was Baumbach’s star performer. But Whit Stillman got there first, casting Eigeman in suspiciously similar roles for Metropolitan and Barcelona.”

    “Then there’s Gerwig. For Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, she achieves her fantasy of becoming a dancer, by inventing and teaching The Sambola! in the final credits. Two years later, in Frances Ha, her character’s ambitions lead to choreographing a dance show. The Sambola! may or may not be a post-credits easter egg.”

  • 4

    Its for the plebes to understand and a DJ movie bait but it can’t win!
    We still love the talking movies the vintage stuff which is contemporary.
    Life is a moment in time so who can justifiably be called the artist of the moment??
    An artist of distinctive intelligence and a fierce, thought-provoking wit, only can win-
    Plebes! Be different do not polarize.

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