Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's Frances Ha
The acronym “BFF” is thrown around a lot by young girls to describe close friendships. However, is it conceivable for girls to remain “Best Friends Forever?” “Best” is an idealization, and “Forever” is a long time. The 50th New York Film Festival features two films in its Main Slate, Frances Ha and Ginger and Rosa, which center on sets of female BFFs. Strong female relationships are rarely featured in film and even more seldom are they accurately portrayed. These two films showcase very honest female friendships, free of love triangles and cattiness. Instead, fully-realized and thus inherently flawed women are depicted on screen. While these women are intrinsically bonded, their relationships become fractured, perhaps irreparably.
The Frances Ha best friends Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) have been inseparable since college. The two spend most of their free time together until Sophie announces that she wants to move out of their apartment. In Sally Potter’s Ginger and Rosa, the best friends are the two eponymous teenage girls, growing up in Cold War-era London. Born on the same day, in side-by-side hospital beds, the girls are together until their teens, at which point Rosa's (Alice Englert) rapid sexualization causes her to takes risks that threaten to destroy their relationship.
In the films, both sets of friends are initially close to the point of ritualizing their relationship, having moments and languages that only exist between the two of them. In Frances Ha, Frances and Sophie routinely sleep in the same bed at night. Sophie always has to tell Frances “take off your socks” because, as a rule, she hates when socks are worn in bed. Even the way they talk on the phone with each other is ritualized. They end each conversation using “ghetto fabulous” rhetoric, confusing those around them. They also close every phone conversation with “I love you.” Frances always tells their friends that she and Sophie are the “same person with different hair”—Frances is blonde, Sophie brunette. While this was perhaps true in college, it isn't anymore. Frances is in a state of stunted growth, barely working as an apprentice at a dance company. Sophie has a steady job in publishing.
Ginger and Rosa, on the other hand, always claim to be opposites, but they have a ritualized “twinning” of their physical appearances. In the beginning of the film, the girls dress nearly identically to each other. In one scene, as they get ready for a political rally, they rifle through piles of clothing in order to come up with the best matching outfits for the occasion—beige turtleneck sweaters and jeans. Rosa gives atheist Ginger a crucifix that matches her to wear. They even ritualize the shrinking of their jeans, wearing them while sitting in Ginger’s bathtub together. They take turns teaching each other the hidden art of “cat’s eye” eyeliner and ironing their hair on an ironing board, per the demands of 60s fashion. Also “the same person with different hair,” Ginger is named for her red hair, while Rosa is a brunette.
Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa
Both friendships, however, face cataclysmic moments of rupture, threatening the final F in their BFF status. When Sophie moves out, the relationship between her and Frances suffers greatly. Sophie then becomes more involved with her boyfriend (whom Frances hates) and begins to align herself with friends previously thought to be boring. Frances, in turn, resents her friends for “moving on” and, unable to pay the rent on their old apartment, is forced to crash with a series of acquaintances. As Frances backslides, ending up at her old college as an RA, Sophie gets engaged to her boyfriend and follows him to Japan without divulging her move to Sophie in advance. The friendship suffered from the initial blow of the move; Frances, in particular, is incapable of coming to terms with the fact that Sophie wanted to move on from their close bond. While their relationship could never be the same as it once was, the only hope of reconciling comes about when the two finally resign themselves to the fact that they are different people… and that’s okay.
Ginger and Rosa suffer a major break in their relationship but, as with Frances and Sophie, their separation is a slow burn. Rosa is consistently more daring than Ginger—she smokes, “goes all the way” with boys, and keeps Ginger out really late. But when Rosa sets her sights on Ginger’s father, pacifist politico Roland (Alessandro Nivola), Ginger can no longer sweep it under the rug—especially when Roland and Rosa have sex in a small boat mere feet away from Ginger. As Rosa romances Roland, she begins to play housewife, adopting the all-black, Beat-style attire of Ginger’s mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks). As a distraction, Ginger immerses herself in the fight against the nuclear bomb. When Ginger finally explodes after months of enduring Rosa and Roland’s affair, her ability to come to terms with what has happened and forgive her friend's trespasses is called into question.
In both films, the female relationships on display are decisively fractured, but the promise is left for reconciliation. In order for a friendship to endure, the filmmakers argue, it is important to accept that change is okay. A friendship can evolve, and perhaps lessen in intensity, but it can survive nonetheless. Frances Ha and Ginger and Rosa both attest to this fact, highlighting the natural maturation of the women involved and how they must learn to accept change in one another. It’s cool to be “different girls with different hair”—to survive the natural ebbs and flows of friendship without adhering to the childish notion of being “BFFs.”
Caitlin Hughes is a member of the NYFF Critics Academy program. You can follow her on Twitter at @C_B_Hughes.