Frances Ha Is Still the Definitive Portrait of Platonic Female Love, 10 Years Later

by Emily Maskell

A still from Frances Ha, Greta Gerwig dancing
A still from ‘Frances Ha,’ courtesy of IFC

At the heart of Frances Ha is a love story. The 2012 black-and-white film, co-written and starring Greta Gerwig alongside director Noah Baumbach, centers a 27-year-old New Yorker navigating the big city in search of belonging. And this tale, which has become something of a cult classic, is certainly a romance—of sorts. But Frances Ha’s love interest deviates from the expected. Instead of a heterosexual affair, the film paints an earnest portrait of one of the important romances a woman can have: the love for her best friend.

Frances Ha recently marked its 10th anniversary—and the film’s unique reckoning with fiercely platonic love remains a rarity in cinema. Before her director credits for Lady Bird and Little Women, Gerwig starred as the titular Frances in Baumbach’s mumblecore movie. Frances is an endearingly chaotic woman who is coming of age in her late 20s as she wrestles with changing ambitions, overpriced rent, and her unwavering adoration for her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Charting the nuances of their relationship, Frances Ha is a celebration of prioritizing the unspoken, symbiotic closeness of female platonic love.

Sophie has been France’s other half since college. They’re two sides of the same coin and joined at the hip. The film opens with a montage of them as if this were the conclusion to a happily-ever-after rom-com: they play fight in a park, share a cigarette, read aloud while the other knits, and strings soar when they run into each other’s arms after a work day apart. “Tell me the story of us,” Frances asks with wide-eyed, childlike wonder one night, nestling into the sheets of the only used bed in their shared Brooklyn apartment, because why get cold walking across the hallway when you can stay cozy beside your favorite storyteller?

Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha.

Courtesy of IFC

Their loyalty is unmatched; Frances even breaks up with her boyfriend over an ultimatum of him or Sophie (she chooses the latter without hesitation). Gerwig and Sumner’s intricate performances breathe natural life into their characters; their relationship evades both the buddy-ness of a typical coming-of-ager and the template of a romantic comedy. Instead, there is an unquestioning devotion to their shared independence. Baumbach, too, takes particular care to build the utterly uncensored, safe, and pure relationship with extended sequences of them bickering before they lean on one another for comfort, making it even more devastating when they go their separate ways after Frances takes Sophie’s decision to move out as abandonment.

Uprooting herself, Frances’s new roommates brandish her “undateable.” Previously, her attention was occupied by Sophie, who fulfilled the role of a partner. Now, the adjective is like a scar, one that she forgets is there until she looks down and is met with a pang of loss. She endeavors to not show her heart’s been ripped out of her chest and stamped on, but with half the furniture gone and a bed that hasn’t molded to her shape, Frances’s smile doesn’t quite meet her eyes. “Sophie trouble” proves to be a much more heartbreaking variety of “boy trouble.”

The film’s centerpiece is a burgeoning monologue delivered flawlessly by Gerwig, a moment of exquisite, heartbreaking foreshadowing. Attending a dinner party where she plays the character of an adult woman with her life together, Frances describes what she would like from of a partner: “It’s that thing when you’re with someone and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people… and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes… That is your person in this life.” These mundane acts of care she speaks to are realized in Frances and Sophie’s unabashed gazes. In one look, it is clear their love has not dissipated. As life partners, Frances is moored to Sophie’s mind and Sophie is anchored to Frances’ heart.

For Frances and Sophie, the title of “best friend” doesn’t seem grand enough and “platonic love” feels like it pales in comparison to the intensity of their feelings for each other. The affection between women portrayed in Frances Ha is a beautiful, candidly observed portrait that presents feminine love to be as precious as romantic love. Because who’s to say it isn’t as fulfilling or valuable?