“I’m Not a Real Person Yet”: Queering Coming of Age in Frances Ha

Abstract: The 2012 film Frances Ha, portraying twenty-seven-year-old Frances Halladay’s everyday struggles in New York City, poses a problem of genre classification: No critical consensus exists on whether Frances Ha’s portrayal of Frances should be called critical or affirmative. Yet even the sympathetic descriptions of what is perceived as Frances’s arrested development suggest that Frances as a character continually fails at being a ‘proper adult.’ This essay, however, posits that this alleged indecisiveness of the film’s central message should be understood as a conscious strategy insofar as Frances Ha ‘queers’ the genre of coming of age. That is, I suggest that understanding the film in terms of conventional notions of coming of age based on a bildungsroman tradition must necessarily prove insufficient. Drawing on the work of, among others, Susan Fraiman and Jack Halberstam, this essay argues that Frances Ha can be read as an interrogation of heteronormative concepts of maturity by queering notions of matrimony, development, and mastery. In doing this, the film opens up spaces for imagining alternative ‘modes of life.’ Treating Frances’s perceived immaturity as consciously made ‘mistakes’ instead allows us to unpack the film’s subversive intervention into what it means to be a ‘grown up’ in twenty-first-century America.

The 2012 film Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach and written by him and Greta Gerwig, depicts the struggles of twenty-seven-year-old Frances Halladay to both find a new permanent home and make a career as a dancer. After being unable to renew the lease of her shared apartment in Brooklyn due to her best friend Sophie deciding to move to Tribeca instead, the film follows, in the form of short self-encompassed episodes, Frances’s meandering journey through a variety of interim homes and jobs—each episode starting with her new address—before finally showing her moving into her own apartment as well as starting to work as a choreographer. While the film received wide critical acclaim upon its release, it poses what could be called a problem of genre classification. As an overview of the media coverage suggests, Frances Ha seems to create some interpretative confusion: There is a surprising amount of uncertainty regarding the central message of the film generally and how to evaluate Frances’s journey specifically.

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