Frances Ha (2012) is one of those rare mumblecore movies that features a protagonist that is relatable. Not just to the undatable-middle-aged women who don’t feel like their life is completely under their wrap, but also to those free-flowing people who believe to take life one moment at a time, but are not really ready to grow up just yet.
Featuring Greta Gerwig as the titular Frances, Noah Baumbach’s movie charts the youthful exuberance of the character, with the many contradictions she sways away from. Shot in beautiful black-and-white, with the camera almost always fixated on the dancing, bubbling joy of a woman, this is one of those rare character studies that make you want to wish only the best for her.
And if, like me, you were completely bowled out by the life-affirming feeling that the film leaves you with, here are 10 movies to watch if you like Frances Ha:
1. Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
Named one of the greatest movies directed by a woman, French New Wave auteur Agnes Varda tells the story of a young girl Cleo as she goes on a day-long journey of self-discovery once she develops a doubt that she might have cancer.
Like Frances Ha, Cleo is a talented young woman, whose anxiety and energy often get the better of her. Focusing on the fear of morality and the need to feel validated, Cleo feels eerily similar to Frances because one of the main worries that the protagonist suffers from is truly existential.
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2. Reality Bites (1994)
A true look at Gen X even before the term meant anything at all, Ben Stiller’s “Reality Bites” follows Leliana (Winona Ryder), an aspiring, valedictorian videographer who is trying to make a documentary about her best friends and how life post-college turned the tables on them.
Looking at the freewheeling life of a bunch of youngsters trying to differentiate head from toe, Reality Bites, like Frances Ha is also a movie about identity. While Frances Ha takes place mostly in New York City, Stiller’s movie finds its ground in Houston, letting Leliana navigate a treacherous time in her life – one where she understands relationships, and heartbreak and also learns to identify with the one thing she is good at.
3. Ghost World (2001)
While Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World is like an antithesis of Frances Ha – seeing that its tone, humor, and overall feeling are nihilistic in comparison to the joy that Frances Ha offers, there are more similarities here than one will ever give it credit for.
For instance, both the movies are about two female best friends who hold such a strong bond between them that it feels like nothing can ever tear them apart. And yet, with time, they slowly drift away; finding differences in the things they want in life, or simply succumbing to it inevitably. To add to that, both the movies start by focusing on the two women and later drift into charting the path of the one who is more oblivious about life.
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4. Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)
Directed by Joe Swanberg, who is often considered a pioneer of the mumblecore film movement; in addition to helping Greta Gerwig kick-start her acting career, Hannah Takes the Stairs follows a recently graduated girl named Hannah as she takes up an interesting internship at a Chicago-based production company.
Looking at the confused state of a young woman who is not only trying to figure out her life on the professional front, but also on a personal one, Hannah Takes the Stairs, like Frances Ha is one of those movies that believes that the best of characters and their motifs can only be understood by the conversation they make.
Shot at a shoestring budget and alive only when Swanberg lets his actors breathe palpable energy into these characters, this is a movie that observes the bewildering nature of being young with unscathed realism.
5. Mistress America (2015)
I would like to believe that Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America” is like a soul-sister film to Frances Ha. In which, Frances grew up to become a slightly successful Brooke (her character in Mistress America) but her inability to really keep it all together and concrete in a way that society wants you to, follow her around.
That said, the film’s focus (or at least at the starting point) is Tracy (Lola Kirk), a lonely freshman who is new to the city and doesn’t really gel up well with people her age. And so she (*pretend rewinds*) meets Brooke – her to-be step-sister. The two of them embark together on a journey of self-discovery where screwball comedy ensues.
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6. Microhabitat (2017)
Mi-so has her priorities set in life. She would rather have her cigarettes and whiskey at a hiked price, than pay for a roof over her head. While that might feel like a stubborn thing to do, Mi-so, with these bare necessities is managing to hang her life on a thin thread.
Her friends from her now-old band stage of life have moved on, and are living lives that look perfect from the outside. However, when Mi-so breaches through, the film investigates them more closely. Posing some really meditative questions about the choices we make in life. Microhabitat thus becomes a charming character study that is famously termed the Korean Frances Ha. And for what’s worth, it’s exactly that…and then some.
7. Lady Bird (2017)
You have to admit that Frances Ha, Mistress America, and Lady Bird are all movies cut out from the same cloth. While Gerwig takes the directorial chair in Lady Bird and the protagonist is a little more angsty than the loveably weightlessness of Gerwig’s characters in the other two, the journey of growing up, the inability to keep the relationships that mean the most together, and the constant feeling of belonging & not belonging at the same time, are all pretty familiar tropes in the Gerwig-universe.
With Lady Bird, we follow Lady Bird McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her ever-tesselating relationship with those around her – especially focusing on the bond she shares with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). While Lady Bird is a rebellious teenager who seems to think she has all of it figured out, the trajectory that the film takes subverts the tropes of a typical coming-of-age movie by also becoming a love letter to the place where one grows up in.
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8. Montparnasse Bienvenüe (2017)
Montparnasse Bienvenue (a.k.a Jeune Femme that translates to ‘Young Woman’) follows the return of Paula (Lætitia Dosch) to Paris after living abroad and being recently dumped by her wealthy boyfriend Joachim. The 30-something is energetic and likes to party. However, she just can’t keep up being the young, carefree girl she wants to be; exhausting all her saved-up money and pissing off her friends in quick succession.
Failing to kickstart a new life for herself, Paula struggles to make a living initially but soon manages to lie her way to getting two jobs that can sustain her for a bit. Just when things start looking up for her, new setbacks emerge and she has to find her way out of them too. Like Frances Ha, Montparnasse Bienvenüe is a character study of a totally oblivious woman trying to avoid acting like an adult but failing to do so.
9. The Worst Person in the World (2021)
Contrary to what the title suggests, Joachim Trier’s round-off of to The Oslo Trilogy is a straightforward romantic comedy for those of us who hate the genre. Co-written by Eskil Vogt, who tells Julie’s (Renate Reinsve) tale in 12 chapters, The Worst Person in the World is a glorious tale of embracing youth and its wayward spirals.
Exuberating pepped-up Frances-Ha-esque energy, this is one of the sharpest, most intelligently told coming-of-age tales about the inevitability of realizing that we are not meant to be unique, even though every ounce of our body and mind tells us to. Featuring a star-making turn by Renate Reinsve, who dominates every frame of this picture, The Worst Person in the World captures millennial angst like none other.
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10. Anaïs in Love (2021)
As far as chatoic femme are concerned, the life of Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) truly feels like it can tumble and fall, or just run out of breathes any moment. However, this strange spin on the maniac pixie girl trope and that of a traditional love triangle basks in its own glory. A definite throwback to the French New Wave films of Eric Rohmer, but remaining true to its self-absorbed protagonist, the movie finds Anais trying to seduce her way into falling in love.
While more traditional in the sense that it is a romantic comedy at heart, Anais in Love is one of the movies that, like Frances Ha feels like it is dancing from one confused decision to the other. Taking a true stride in its central character, who often dodged things than face them, this is a true summer movie that is best enjoyed with a bottle of wine and someone who is aware of the bottle’s true worth.