Noah Baumbach‘s newest film, Frances Ha, touched me deeply–although probably not in a way that he (or his co-writer and star, Greta Gerwig) intended. The film is interesting enough on its own merits, but it also contains a scene that takes place in the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento. Once I saw that chalice onscreen, I was unable to separate the film from our faith.
Many other reviewers–Godfrey Cheshire, Vince Leo, Eric D. Snider–have written about the movie. A quirky coming-of-age tale, it is shot in “sumptuous black-and-white.” It is “full of nods to the French New Wave…[with] reverential hyper-cinephilia.” Some recommend it (Snider writes, “this is what happens when Mumblecore grows up and turns into a real movie… [it has] crackling dialogue” and Cheshire calls it “occasionally inspired, frequently charming and always watchable”) while others think it a bit too slow (Leo: “As the character of Frances is thoughtful and energetic, yet aimless and self-indulgent, so is the pacing of this movie”).
And that’s where the film overlaps with Unitarian Universalism. I couldn’t help but feel that the writers included a scene in a UU congregation to help the viewers understand how bohemian and not-completely-developed Frances is. Her extended adolescence is directly comparable to the un-serious reputation of her faith tradition. One character tells her something like, “you look older than you really are, but you still don’t have your shit together.” Also, Frances is white, as are the vast majority of her friends; and for all her difficulties paying rent in NYC, her parents appear quite financially comfortable (Snider writes, “Frances struggles – in that low-stakes, not-life-or-death way that people her age and demographic ‘struggle’ in the big city”). Frances may pretend solidarity with urban poor people, but she always has the privilege of escape if she needs it.
I did enjoy the movie, and I do appreciate my faith. I feel respect and compassion for all of my fellow Unitarian Universalists–past and present. Becoming a UU changed my life. So it is with love and some frustration that I note that our movement, like Frances, can be aimless and self-indulgent.
We need bigger dreams, and we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable to those dreams. Gini Courter recently told us how to do that. I hope that we follow her advice.
**SPOILER ALERT*****SPOILER ALERT*****SPOILER ALERT***
Frances and her best friend had big dreams, then life (as it often does) complicated their lives, and they had different responses. Frances’ friend Sophie (wisdom, get it?) eventually settles for a man she does not truly love, and moves to a country she says she hates. Frances does not fully settle, but she does compromise: she gets a “real” (9-5 desk) job, and focuses her energy (not the full “manic pixie dream girl,” but still plenty vivacious) on pursuing her true passion. She achieves success in that passion implausibly quickly, but that does provide a gentle happy ending.
Again, we UUs must get over our collective fantasies (we are not the church for everyone, and we must partner with groups with different–even opposed–theologies, if we are to have a truly significant impact on our world), and begin the laborious process of discerning our deepest passions, and then bringing them to life. Many, many UUs *are* doing that–they are doing important, creative, remarkable work. But if we don’t help them, and learn from them, and come together with them as a larger force, then we’re wasting our potential, rather like several of the aimless hipsters from the movie.
Cheshire ultimately calls the film “pretty good, but could be a lot better if it tried.” Just like Unitarian Universalism.