There is a critical moment halfway through Noah Baumbach's latest film, Frances Ha. When the titular character is the awkward third wheel at a party, she describes her idea of a perfect relationship. For Frances, it would be defined by a knowing look shared across a room at a party. She looks towards the camera dreamily, saying she wants to meet "her person." Except, Frances isn't necessarily referring to a romantic relationship, as a scene near the end features this knowing look exchanged with her best friend Sophie.
The character of Frances, played with quirky ingenuity by Greta Gerwig (who also co-wrote the script with Baumbach), may be a potential poster-child for an adrift millennial, however, the true focus of the film is the dynamics of female friendships. The film is really quite daring in its portrayal of female friendship. Frances and Sophie go through the motions of being BFFs to breaking up to being reunited in the end. This time line of their friendship sounds more akin to the plot of a romantic comedy.
The closeness that Frances and Sophie share is even compared to a marriage in the beginning of the film, as they make the assertion that their relationship is like a marriage without any sex. The first few scenes of the film, which explore this portion of their friendship, echo the recent article in Marie Claire, "Are Girlfriends the New Husbands?" Whitney Joiner discusses how the emotional support of female friendship can prove to be more stabilizing than a marriage. In the beginning of Frances Ha, this is shown through the shared activities of Frances and Sophie, and in their conversation about "the story of us." They view themselves as a unit, doing everything together.
Of course, like any relationship drama, there are roadblocks, such as Sophie having the opportunity to move to a better location and taking it, without consulting Frances. But what truly puts a temporary end to their friendship is Frances' seeming jealously over the time that Sophie spends with her boyfriend, Patch. When Frances does decide to confront Sophie, and reveals her dislike of Patch, the two friends abruptly part ways. These scenes also echo Joiner's article.
Central to this article is discussion of the downsides of female friendship. Joiner writes, "The problem, of course, is that because there's no duty in a friendship to hang in and ride out rough patches, as there is (at least in theory) in a marriage, it's way easier to call it quits with a pal than with a husband. Relying on a friend the way you might a spouse can be fraught with peril. "Responsibilities are clearer in a marriage or family," says psychologist Irene Levine, Ph.D., author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.
"In a friendship, what's too much to ask? When are you too demanding? Boundaries are more amorphous and harder to define. You might be more free to tell your husband that he's acting too needy, but that same criticism could threaten the very foundation of a friendship."
In the film, Frances does assume that there is a duty to one another, and this duty of friendship will override any, and all, other commitments. While this assumption ultimately causes their friendship to crumble, her reliance on Sophie is understandable. The emotional support of female friendship can be rich and comfortable, acting as a safe haven. Research even indicates that strong female friendships can help ease stress. This can certainly be true, but these friendships can also be a source of great stress. When Frances and Sophie do "break-up," Frances finds herself adrift, without a foundation, and seems to float from situation to situation without any place to call home. It is only when she is able to repair her friendship with Sophie that she finds her place and "her person."
While centering one's life around a singular friendship is probably a poor idea, the example of Frances confirms to female viewers, such as myself, that we are not alone. Female friendships can be extremely rewarding, and perhaps even more intense than romantic relationships, but it can also be a source of anxiety and stress. Speaking for myself, I know I've had experiences akin to that of Frances and Sophie. Have I been more distressed and upset at times over my friendships with other girls than my relationship to a boyfriend? Yes. Have I found greater support and understanding in my female friendships over romantic relationships? Yes.
In the end, Frances Ha is not so much about the journey of the titular character to find herself. It is about the ups and downs she experiences with her best friend, showing that their "break-up" is not unfamiliar to us, but neither is their reunion.