Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently moved back into my parents’ home. As a 24 year old back in my childhood room, I’ve been thinking a lot about the significance of the bedrooms you inhabit in your 20s. In the past 6 years I have personally had 8 different bedrooms, moving house at least once a year from rented property to rented property. The lack of consistent roots in one location characterizes the turbulent uncertainties of your 20s, which is captured perfectly by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha.
The film follows 27 year old Frances Halladay, a dancer living in New York, stuck in a rut. Throughout the feature, we see Halladay living in 7 different locations, floundering and unable to find a sustainable home for herself. The instability of her living situation reflects the unstable nature of her career, friendships and future. The film is divided into chapters, literally defined by Halladay’s addresses: 682 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11238 and 214 Camellia Ave, Sacramento, CA, 94203 for example. Structuring the narrative around Halladay’s homes cleverly highlights how your living situation defines an era of your life, no matter how brief it may be. Rented homes provide you with structural chapters, acting as markers in your memory.
It also shows Halladay’s life to be grounded in some form of structure. When Halladay has an address, her story and her life have order. When she doesn’t, she’s lost. There are two places Halladay “lives” that are not used to define a chapter, such as when she’s living on her friend’s sofa or spending her long weekend in Paris. By not devoting a chapter to these homes, Baumbach and Gerwig highlight that without an address, Frances is without structure and security.
Beds are used throughout the film to represent both success and independence. In Halladay’s first apartment with Sophie, the girls fall asleep together in Sophie’s bed. When Halladay says “I should sleep in my own bed,” Sophie asks why, to which she responds “because I paid for it.” Despite this, she continues sleeping in Sophie’s bed, displaying a lack of independence and a reliance on her friend. When living in a shared home, your bedroom and bed are often the only places within your residence that are truly your own — the single space you don’t need to share. However, Halladay’s bedroom, and specifically her bed, are never a place of solitude. When she’s sleeping in her Chinatown apartment, her flatmates jump on her bed to wake her up, and whenever anyone’s in her room, they are always sprawling on her bed.
Halladay’s lack of independence can be seen when Benji has to put her to sleep, leaving the door open in case she needs him. When she grows frustrated attempting to make her bed she states, “I don’t make the bed, Sophie always made the bed,” showing her strong reliance on others, even for the most menial tasks. The space that is meant to represent her independence instead epitomizes her reliance. Interestingly, the only time we see Halladay sleep alone is when she visits Paris. Unable to fall asleep, she tosses and turns throughout the night before taking sleeping pills, and eventually waking at 4pm, further highlighting her dependency. She was able to sleep soundly when in bed with Sophie, or put to bed by Benji, but not when on her own. Crucially, this is the point of the film when Halladay is at her lowest ebb: she’s crashing on her friend’s sofa and staying in the Parisian apartment of a couple she barely knows.
After Paris, Halladay moves into a college dorm to work as a waitress. Here her bed represents her rise from rock bottom. The fact that it’s a single bed marks it as only a step towards the double bed she used to own, but nevertheless, it’s progress in the right direction. Significantly, when Halladay is in this dorm room, Sophie sleeps in her bed — a complete role reversal from the start of the film. It’s a rebalancing of power: Halladay still relies on Sophie, but we see here that Sophie needs her too.
Throughout the film, we see living spaces — more specifically bedrooms — becoming a symbol of a person’s wider identity. Sophie and Halladay are inseparable at the start of the film, with their personal identities becoming blurred and entwined — existing as part of a unit. Halladay repeatedly describes them as “the same person but with different hair.” Their entire lives are shared, and this identity is reflected in their communal living situation, as well as personified by them sleeping in the same bed.
When Halladay moves in with Benji and Lev in Chinatown, their individual rooms are evidently a source of pride to them. Upon her first visit to the apartment, Lev proudly asks “Want to see my room?” When Sophie later visits, we see Halladay ask the same question with an equal sense of pride. The query sounds almost childish, but encompasses what Halladay has been searching for throughout the film — a feeling of pride in her life. Frances Ha portrays bedrooms and homes as a symbol of security, independence, and identity; therefore, the question is really asking “do you want to see how well my life is going?” Bedrooms are projections of an individual’s personal success and identity: a physical symbol to the rest of the world of how well they’re doing.
The film closes with Halladay moving into a place of her own. We see the living room and kitchen area, but crucially, we don’t see her bedroom. At last, her bedroom is her own domain, a place where she can experience privacy and solitude. She looks around the empty apartment with an air of pride, showing quiet, calm contentment in her smile. Finally, she is anchored in a place of security. In the final scene, Halladay puts her name next to her mailbox. When her full name doesn’t fit, she settles for ‘Frances Ha’, thus giving the film its title. Not only does the apartment secure Halladay’s identity, but it provides the identity to her entire story. This conclusion demonstrates how throughout the film, Halladay was trying to find herself — something she finally does upon moving into her own home — ending the chronicle of her becoming ‘Frances Ha,’ the person who lives in the apartment, independently.