I Think About This a Lot: The Paris Trip in Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha.
Photo: IFC Films

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

The summer I graduated from college, I moved to New York City to Make My Dreams Come True— ever heard of it? I got a job at a comedy theater where I quickly began an affair with the 19-year-old custodian and considered buying Blue Moon and string cheese at the Duane Reade across the street “pounding the pavement.”

One evening, in the midst of a Blue Moon bender (It would be two more years before I found out alcohol makes you gain weight — did you know it’s just sugar?), I got a text from my friend Katie saying “Run, don’t walk, to see Frances Ha.” At the time, I worked two days a week and spent the other five lying around wondering why I’d squandered my Princeton education on making out in damp supply closets. Yes, it’s impressive that I went to Princeton, but isn’t it more impressive that I don’t remember anything I learned?

It was on one of my days off that I was able to find a hole in my gaping wound of a schedule to see Frances Ha. Like many young women about town, I was enamored with the film. I thought it perfection from start to finish — what can I say? I love watching a gal try and make it in the Big City. (Legal Disclaimer: I’m obsessed with myself.) But as someone who suffers from a rare disease where I think I’m one trip abroad away from self-actualizing, I particularly connected with Frances when she invites herself to stay at a stranger’s home in Paris and sleeps through most of the trip. Five years later, I still think about that sequence of events often — it comes to mind anytime I wish I were somewhere else.

It all starts when Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, finds herself the drunkest and least well-traveled guest at an intimate dinner party among Kinfolk-esque Brooklyn blog-parents. The host mentions his family has just returned from Paris and throws out an empty invitation to stay at their pied-à-terre should Frances ever find herself there. To his surprise, she boldly accepts the offer, maxes out her credit card to secure a last-minute flight, and, after a jet lag-induced sleeping pill mishap, sleeps through the majority of her trip. She doesn’t manage see any sights or connect with her college friend Abby who lives in the city. Frances only receives a voicemail from Abby inviting her to an idyllic Parisian dinner with a hot divorcée once she lands back in NYC. “Wherever you go, there you are.”

I relate to the series of missed connections on a cosmic level — the cringe-worthy misreading of social cues, the reckless money-spending, pressing snooze to infinity. It all makes my heart blush. I love the aggressive desperation of the Paris trip — it’s the same flavor of desperation that once inspired me to convince a man I fucked in a stairwell in Scotland to visit me in NYC for a month, or to drunkenly bike over the Williamsburg bridge to have sex with an almost 40-year-old man who said a bed would “take up too much space in his apartment.”

There’s a Philip Larkin poem that says, “oh well, I suppose it’s not the place’s fault … nothing, like something, happens anywhere.” Frances flees to Paris to find that something, but is only greeted by the same nothing she’s been wrestling with in NYC. While I know running from your problems is famously never a slam dunk, I have always hoped that said problems would seem more glamorous abroad or at least resolve themselves through eating, praying, and yes … even loving. This makes watching Frances squander her trip all the more crushing. Imagine feeling bored in Paris — how gauche!

My therapist — let’s call her Anne, because that’s her name — says I use the word “boring” too much, but life can be so deeply boring when you’re trying to figure out who you are. I’m now the same age Frances is in the film (a young 27). I remember when I first watched it at 22, I thought, “surely by 27, I’ll have it all together. At the very least, I’ll own a blazer and be able to give myself a blowout.” I don’t own a blazer, but I am deeply addicted to DryBar (sometimes throwing money at your problems does work!) But even with perfect TV hair (straight with three or four curls at the bottom), I still can’t figure out how everyone else seems to have it all figured out. I want to ask everyone on the street how they spend their days. If anyone knows how everyone spends their days, please reach out to my intern. (My intern is me in a wig.)

Though my life is much more stable than it was at 22, I still occasionally feel stuck in-between youth and full-on personhood and this restlessness makes me want to do something drastic like Go to Fucking Paris. Maybe in Paris a friend in a beret will call me “spontaneous.” Maybe I’ll become the kind of girl who can write “adventurer” in her Instagram bio without blood seeping out of her eyes. Maybe I can’t escape my problems in Paris, but at least I’ll be able to collect enough stories to replace those problems. Or maybe going on the trip is story enough. Ah, I’m up to my ears in millennial ennui!

Did you think I’d get through a piece about Frances Ha without using the word “millennial?” Grow up.

I Think About This a Lot: The Paris Trip in Frances Ha