Tuesday, February 11, 2014

World of Change: Blue Jasmine and Frances Ha

At times the world seems to be spinning too quickly and we can’t catch up.  Changes happen in the world around us, and we are stuck somewhere in the past, unable to pull ourselves up, unable to move.  The world moves around us and we are required to catch up.  But can we?  Or will we be stuck in an emotional bog that we can’t pull our feet out of?

This is the basic question the titular characters of two wonderful films of 2013 deal with: Blue Jasmine and Frances Ha.  The first is written and directed by Woody Allen, and reflects my favorite kind of Allen films—dramas in which he does not star.  The second is a charming film by the quirky director Noah Baumbach, who also directed The Squid and the Whale.

Jasmine’s struggles is due to her husband being convicted of corporate fraud and committing suicide.  She lost everything because many of the corporations were in her name.  She went to live with her sister, G, who is accepting of her lower social class, while Jasmine insists on making “more” for herself.  Full of wonderful performances, gets bogged down near the end when the pacing reflects its Allen source.  As long as the performers drive the script, it is brilliant.  Near the end, it becomes the other way around.

Frances “I don’t do what I do” Halladay, claims this motto because she is a dancer who is on the edges of a company, but without enough talent to be a part of it.  She holds onto this dream, even as she holds onto her best friend, Sophie, who is seeking a new life in a new neighborhood and a permanent boyfriend.  As her anchors slip away from her, she is desperately clutching to her past in a charming manner.  In a sense, Frances Ha is a “coming of age” film for twenty-somethings.  It could be argued that full maturity in our more complicated world requires more time than in the past to mature, so the time for this film is ripe.

A friend of mine recently reflected that Jasmine might eventually grow to become Frances.  Or, more pessimistically, the other way around.  However, the two characters are unique enough that I can’t really see them as the same basic person.  They are both struggling with life change and they are both too revelatory about their own lives, but while Frances is ultimately optimistic and upbeat, Jasmine is constantly frustrated and tries to cope by complaining about other people’s problems.

The question I have is: what hints do these two films give us when we are struggling with moving on in our lives?  (Note, I will frankly speak of the endings of both films, so spoilers ahead).

Don’t hold onto the past
Ultimately, remaining in the past became Jasmine’s downfall.  She found herself unable to move on because she was going over and over what she should have said, or what her husband and son should have done.  Frances has some of the same issues, wanting to hold onto her dream of being a dancer in the company and staying best friends with Sophie forever.  As long as she desperately clutched at these ideals, she could never grow as a person.

Accept who you are
We have to accept not only our talents, but also our weaknesses.  While Jasmine was gifted at fashion and design, she had no aptitude for computers, and she unnecessarily tied these two things together.  When she started to be interested in Dwight, she gave a false narrative of her life, to avoid the negativity, which destroyed that relationship. Frances was a gifted choreographer, but she had no talent as a dancer.  Part of Frances’ success is that she accepted others’ analysis of her abilities and pursued her strengths.  Ginger, Jasmine’s sister, also learned to accept the kind of person she was and to be content with that—yes, she was lower middle class, and yes, she attracted mechanics instead of engineers, but that was okay.

Allow relationships to evolve
One of the saddest scenes in Frances Ha is when Frances has a new roommate, and she was desperately trying to fit this new roommate into her and Sophie’s relationship.  Instead of growing, Frances was trying to mold others into a pattern she accepts. Frances had to learn to allow her best friend Sophie to become the person she was growing into, and not to try to make her fit into the mold of who she used to be.  People change and when they change they don’t go back, rather they will just continue to move forward until they don’t resemble the person they were before.

Learn from people around you
Ginger, while having problems of her own, gave Jasmine an opportunity to learn a new way of life and to accept new kinds of people, which Jasmine couldn’t accept.  Ultimately, Jasmine’s “standards” equated to snobbery, and when the lifestyle she preferred was no longer accessible, she couldn’t move on to something else.  Frances had to learn not only what others thought of her, but also the different kinds of lives that were different from hers.  Unfortunately, she had to stop talking about her struggle and issues and pay attention to the good lives that were growing around her.

Grab opportunities when they come
Frances finally was able to mature when she accepted the opportunities that were offered to her.  In accepting this, she had to accept that she wasn’t a dancer and she could no longer have the relationships she used to have.  But she could build new relationships and she could become a skilled and possibly celebrated choreographer.  Jasmine had an opportunity of a new life with Dwight, or she could have built a life with Ginger, but she was so unaccepting of her reality that she built lies that separated herself from these new lives.  This drove her to the street and insanity.

In this world of constant change, the most important change is within ourselves.

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