In his heart Francis Ha it’s a love story. The 2012 black-and-white film, co-written and starring Greta Gerwig with director Noah Baubach, centers on a 27-year-old New Yorker who navigates the big city in search of belonging. And this tale, which has become something of a cult classic, is definitely a romance. But Francis HaHis love interest deviates from what was expected. Instead of a heterosexual relationship, the film paints a serious portrait of one of the most important romances a woman can have: love for her best friend.
Francis Ha recently hit its 10th anniversary—and the film’s unique account of wild platonic love remains a rarity in cinema. Before crediting her manager for Lady Bird and A little bit women, Gerwig starred as the titular Frances in Baumbach’s mumblecore film. Frances is an endearingly chaotic woman coming of age in her late 20s as she struggles with shifting ambitions, overpriced rent, and her unwavering adoration for her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Charting the nuances of their relationship, Francis Ha it is a celebration of the primacy of the unspoken, symbiotic closeness of female platonic love.
Sophie is France’s other half from college. They are two sides of the same coin and are joined at the hip. The film opens with a montage of them as if this were the conclusion to an upbeat rom-com: they play fight in a park, share a cigarette, read aloud while others knit, and strings soar when they meet in an embrace after a day’s work separately. “Tell me our story,” Frances asks with wide-eyed, childlike wonder one night, nestled into the sheets of the single used bed in their shared Brooklyn apartment, because why get cold walking down the hall when you can stay cozy next to your lover do you tell a story?
Their faith is unmatched. Frances even breaks up with her boyfriend over an ultimatum from him or Sophie (she chooses the latter without hesitation). Gerwig and Sumner’s complex performances bring natural life to their characters. Their relationship eschews both the typical coming-of-age buddy and the romantic comedy template. Instead, there is an unquestioning commitment to their shared independence. Baumbach also takes great care to build the completely uncensored, safe and clean relationship with extended sequences of them fighting before leaning on each other for comfort, making it all the more devastating when they go their separate ways after Frances makes her decision. Sophie moved in as a dropout.
Uprooting herself, Frances’s new housemates brand her as an “unallowable”. Previously, her attention was occupied by Sophie, who fulfilled the role of companion. Now, the last name is like a scar, one that one forgets is there until one looks down and is met with an ache of loss. She tries not to show that her heart has been torn from her chest and trampled on, but with half the furniture gone and a bed not molded to her shape, Frances’s smile is nowhere to be seen in her eyes. “Sophie trouble” turns out to be a much more heartbreaking variety of “boy trouble.”
The film’s centerpiece is a soaring monologue flawlessly delivered by Gerwig, a moment of exquisite, heartbreaking foreshadowing. Attending a dinner where she plays the character of a grown woman with her life together, Frances describes what she would want in a partner: “It’s that thing when you’re with someone and you love them and they know it. I love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people… and you’re looking across the room and catching each other’s eyes… That’s your person in this life.” These mundane acts of care she speaks of are seen in the unabashed looks of Frances and Sophie. At a glance, it’s clear that their love hasn’t waned. As life partners, Frances is anchored in Sophie’s mind and Sophie is anchored in Frances’ heart.
For Frances and Sophie, the title of “best friend” doesn’t seem grand enough, and “platonic love” seems to pale in comparison to the intensity of their feelings for each other. The affection between women depicted in Francis Ha is a beautiful, candidly observed portrait that presents female love as being as precious as romantic love. Because who’s to say it’s not as satisfying or valuable?