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In Defense of "Frances Ha": Why Middle-Class White Angst Is Angst, Too

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik May 17, 2013 at 6:51PM

In some corners, Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" is getting lumped in with a certain cycle of mumblecore movies that focused on young white people with nothing to do with their lives except whining and having sex with each other. This is an oversimplification, of course. But because "Frances" stars that great mumblecore ingenue Greta Gerwig, it's getting saddled with the same criticisms, too: It's just another movie about privileged white wanderers directed by another privileged white wanderer. But I'm here to say that "Frances Ha" has more to say about class politics than most films about 20-something life.
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In some corners, Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" is getting lumped in with a certain cycle of mumblecore movies that focused on young white people with nothing to do with their lives except whining and having sex with each other. This is an oversimplification, of course. But because "Frances" stars that great mumblecore original ingenue, the ever-so-talented and wonderfully awkward Greta Gerwig, it's getting saddled with the same criticisms, too: It's just another movie about privileged white wanderers directed by another privileged white wanderer. But contrary to my usual stance, I'm here to say that "Frances Ha" has more to say about class politics in the world of New York City 20-somethings than most films targeted at that demographic.

frances

When I reviewed the film for Screen Daily out of Toronto, I admittedly was taken by this affectionate portrait of Greta's Frances, an aspiring modern dancer as she deals with a difficult break-up. But unlike many artist-types in New York, like some of the young boys Frances lives with at one point, she doesn't come from privilege. And even if she's middle-class, she's been knocked down to the lower rungs of society by these brutal economic times. Her friend may be an ambitious editor at a publishing house. but Frances is lost like so many other lost kids of her generation.

She might have a leg up in trying to survive the new economic realities because she's white and attractive, but she's not movie star beautiful, and she's not some manic-pixie rich girl. All this is to say, I guess, that white people can have problems, too. And particularly in this dire economy, unemployment doesn't discriminate. (Well, technically it does, but it still sucks for everyone.)

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