Scenes that Stick: Friendship and falling out in ‘Frances Ha’

The film reminds viewers how hard it is to break up with friends

Scenes that Stick: Friendship and falling out in ‘Frances Ha’
Graphic by Carly Johnson

Scenes can epitomize a feeling in a way that sits with the viewer for what seems like forever. Especially during these pandemic quarantines, we are left to ponder around our spaces all day, reliving the most awkward and disappointing moments of our lives. These ponderments too often include remembering those we have pictures with but do not see anymore. Friends from high school, friends from orientation week and friends from months ago with whom we’ve fallen out or simply just forgotten to reach out to. 

There is a scene in the 2012 film “Frances Ha” in which best friends Sophie and Frances fall out, for what seems like the last time. That moment bottles the sad and lost feeling of finitude when one reaches the end of a meaningful friendship. The poignancy of this scene haunts the cobweb-filled corners of my brain.

“Frances Ha” follows its title character (Greta Gerwig) as she totes her quirkiness, often misperceived as emotional immaturity, along a string of constant upsets in her personal, professional and romantic life. She’s a 20-something dancer looking for a space in New York to express herself and feel loved by those around her. No one makes her feel more loved or more at peace than her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who she muses is the same person as her, just with different hair.

The two friends drift through life, hanging on only to each other, but they soon become frustrated with their relationship. Sophie becomes enamored with Patch (Patrick Heusinger), a man whose personality seems to perfectly match the expectations of his name, and Frances insists that Sophie does not actually love him. Frances resists the inevitable demotion to a “three-hour brunch friend” as Sophie and Patch grow closer. Sophie resists the youthfulness that Frances romanticizes. Their disparate approaches to adulthood ultimately drive them apart.

“Frances Ha” is filled with scenes that are heartbreaking for many reasons, but one in the last 20 minutes of the movie is the most depressing out of all of Frances’ stumbles through work and life. This scene sits with me, always.

Leading up to this scene, Sophie hits a rough patch (pun intended) with her now fiancee, and, in a late-night, drunken state, winds up at Frances’ door. They share a single bed and reconnect. Sophie shares the darker side of her relationship with Patch, adding the missing details from her happy blog about their life abroad. She vows to make changes that will insure the re-establishment of her relationship with Frances, and they end the night saying “I love you.” It is relieving to watch Frances’ happiness in healing from a broken heart, but, in the following scene, all that healing comes undone.

In this scene, the one that I think about too often, Sophie gets up and dresses before Frances, as if she’s sneaking out, trying not to get caught after making a mistake. She leaves a note dictated in a voice-over, in which Sophie apologizes for her drunken state and claims to not remember the night before. The note has almost no substance or passion that the previous scene promised. The healing seems to be lost. Frances runs out half-dressed after reading the note, only to watch Sophie drive away. She shouts in a way that would be melodramatic if Sophie were a romantic interest. Instead, it is devastating to watch her call after a friend like that. It’s too simple, too easy for Sophie to walk away, while it’s so hard for Frances to watch her leave.

The weight of remembering a lost friend is often too unbearable to store in the filing cabinets of our own minds. We have to put that feeling of loss away, store it outside of our bodies somehow. This is what Sophie wants and what Frances is too afraid of. What makes this scene so full of mourning is that there is such emptiness in the wake of the relief Frances feels in being whole again. Sophie rises, indifferent from the night before, and withdraws from Frances’ tangled web, strand by strand. She leaves Frances behind in a way that seemingly everyone else leaves her behind. This scene shows the viewer that Sophie is no longer the person who once made Frances feel loved and at peace. Instead, she vacates a space in Frances’ life that only Sophie can fill. Frances has to relive the worst breakup, the worst let down of all the let downs in her life preceding it.

These friend breakups impact so many aspects of our lives and make us question ourselves, especially when a bond is as strong as Sophie’s and Frances’. Frances doesn’t have much stability in her life outside of her love and adoration for Sophie. The loss of their friendship feels like Frances is losing a piece of herself, and she is unsure of how to move on from it. In a way, what Sophie wants from leaving Frances is to no longer be the person Frances loves so much. 

Frances knows this. It is written on her face as she runs out the door after a best friend, unsure if she’ll see her again. In the end, there is a moment where the viewer is led to believe that their relationship will survive, but, in this scene, nothing is certain.

Most do not get this kind of confrontation with the friends we once loved. Frances has to face what so many are terrified of after breaking up with a friend: remembering the hurt of losing and missing them. We condition ourselves to avoid former friends online and in-person to prevent optimistic feelings about repairing broken relationships. The brief happiness in thinking we can reunite with people we miss dearly is too often crushed by the reality that some people cannot be the friend you want or need. This scene makes such an imprint on my mind because of the weight that it holds, and how easy it is to picture oneself being left behind, like Frances, or leaving another, like Sophie. 

ggeorge@theeagleonline.com

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