I was helping a friend analyze short stories for a research paper. One story involved two friends who, at one point in the story, sleep in the same bed. One of them jokes about how they are a lesbian couple. My friend, a man, used this to suggest there must be some romantic desire between the two of them, whereas I argued that female intimacy can exist without any sexual aspect. I gave up trying to convince him–it’s his research paper, not mine–but recommended he watch the film Frances Ha (2012). I’m recommending it to you too because of the way it portrays female friendship as a meaningful form of intimacy, capable of being as important as romance.
Frances Ha opens with twenty-seven year old Frances and her best friend Sophie doing everything together: cooking, cleaning, playing board games, play-fighting. It rapidly becomes clear that Frances has two dreams: to be a dancer and to live with Sophie for the rest of their lives. At the end of the opening sequence they watch a movie together in Sophie’s bed and once Frances believes Sophie is sleeping, she gets up to return to her own bed. “Don’t be stupid,” Sophie mutters, half asleep. Frances stays.
Quickly, however, these dreams Frances has for her life begin to evaporate: Sophie moves out of their shared apartment to a new one in a neighborhood Frances cannot afford. Once they stop living together they predictably stop spending as much time together. Days pass without communication. Frances becomes unaware of new events unfolding in Sophie’s life, like her engagement to her boyfriend and her move to Tokyo. The disintegration in her relationship with Sophie mirrors the deterioration of her dancing dream. Frances is not a good dancer, and her director of her company politely tells her she won’t be able to keep dancing with them while offering her a desk job to still remain involved with the dance company. Despite all this, Frances never becomes bitter or angry – it seems almost like those expressions are impossible for her to emote. Only upon leaving her parents’ home after Christmas break do we see her cry; she’s returning to New York with nothing, desperate for intimate connection and aspirations.
We’ve all been there: going to a new school, or moving away, or getting a new job and thus no longer seeing old friends with the same frequency. It would be common for a film portraying female friendship to introduce a male or female character for the main character to fall in love with to help her “move past” her relationship with her best friend. In Frances Ha, when Frances moves out of the apartment she used to share with Sophie, she moves in with Lev and Benji, two guys who have a sexual and romantic interest in her respectively. But as the realities of life settle in and change the landscape of a friendship, the salve is not to find a new friend or romantic partner. No one is quite like that best friend you’re now separated from. Instead of starting a new intimate relationship with Lev or Benji, Frances opts to remain friends with them both.
At Frances’ lowest point–an awkward dinner party in which she is so blatantly out of place amongst other “adults”–she gives a monologue worthy of a Shakespearean soliloquy, describing what she wants out of life. Frances calls it “that thing when you’re with someone and you love them and they know it and they love you and you know it” and you’re at a party talking to different people and you catch each other’s eye “not because you’re possessive or that it’s precisely sexual, but because that is your person in this life.”
Does Frances find this sort of life she seeks out? Watch the film. It’s on Netflix and it is worth an hour and twenty-five minutes of your life. Greta Gerwig is electric as awkward, well-meaning Frances. The black and white cinematography of New York City is gorgeous. The soundtrack is engaging and melds perfectly with the films aesthetics and characterization. No, Frances Ha written by Greta Gerwig (who plays Frances) and Noah Baumbach (who also directs the film) is not the perfect movie. It has problems, including the fact that all the characters are white, college educated, and living in posh apartments in New York City. But the film upholds the importance of female friendships and aromantic intimacy as life sustaining. Frances does not need a significant other in her life to feel fulfilled and supported. While limited in certain aspects of diversity, the film feels like an opening on another realm of diversity we very rarely see in film: the asexual/aromantic spectrum.