The human mind may devise many plans,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be
Noah Baumbach directed and co-wrote with star Greta Gerwig this delightful black and white comedy about an arrested adolescent woman’s struggle to achieve the object of her dreams—to become a professional dancer— as well as a measure of maturity. There is a host of films about a young adult’s striving for success on Broadway or in Hollywood, but few if any raise the question, “What happens if one’s talents do not match one’s aspirations.” In funny, but poignant ways this film shows a 27 year-old woman wrestling with this and at the same time moving beyond her social ineptness to a measure of maturity.
Frances lives with her best friend from college Sophie (Mickey Sumner) while serving as an unpaid apprentice at a dance company. When Sophie unexpectedly decides to move in with her boyfriend, this leaves Frances both with a sense of betrayal and lacking the funds to keep the apartment. There ensues a series of moves to various apartments, and even a flight to her parents’ home in California for respite, as well as an impulsive trip to Paris on a lonely, romanceless weekend. At one point she accurately states her condition, “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.” However, she hasn’t a clue as to how to become one.
Frances, ignoring clues given off by dance troupe head Colleen’s (Charlotte d’Ambroise) constantly putting her off, clings to the hope that the dance company will hire her during its busy Christmas season, but this does not come about. She manages to find an agent who secures her a dead-end job as a performer at small venues desperate for an act, no matter how low talented. This requires her to leave New York and spend her nights in cheap motels. (Couldn’t help but think of Broadway Danny Rose during this sequence.)
Most films deal with the discipline and perseverance required for success, whereas this one explores the grace and maturity required to deal with failure without sinking into despair. I love the last scene which explains the name of the film, and is so symbolic of Frances’ pared back aspirations! Despite the illusions fostered by myths enshrined in so many movies, there does come a time when a person with small talent must “wake up and smell the coffee.” It might not seem to us as good as the champagne in our dreams, but it can be tasteful and invigorating.
1. What do you think of the relationship of Frances and Sophie? Who is more grounded in reality—and a bit more ruthless?
2. Have you known someone like Frances in that she/he cannot seem to “get it together” ?
3. What clues does Frances miss from dance company director Colleen that reveal that she has no future with the dance company? Colleen perhaps means to be kind by not telling Frances why she will not hire her, but how is this actually cruel?
4. How are we good at dealing with success, but not so much with failure? How is it important for people of faith to have a “theology of failure” ? Note: in my past reviews of Christian-produced films such as Facing the Giants, I observed that virtually all such films end with the underdog triumphing against great odds, as did the football team in that film. But what if despite the faith in God of coach and team, they had lost the climactic game? What then of faith and perseverance?
5. What meaning do you see in the ending at the mailbox in Frances’ new digs? Another film that might surprise you because it also deals with the theme of this film—Monster University.