Mini-spoiler alert: Frances Ha (Baumbach, 2012) is not a film particularly susceptible to being ‘spoiled’ by learning how it ends before one sees it, but readers should be warned that the below does talk about the film’s closing minutes and answers a question that viewers may well have been pondering whilst viewing.
I love the final scene of Frances Ha (along with the rest of the film). Frances, after sharing two different apartments with friends during the rest of the film, is moving in to her own place. The film ends with her in the hallway of the apartment building, making a name label for her mailbox. She begins by writing out her whole name (I can’t remember her surname, and can’t find it on the internet either!), but it’s too long to fit in the window. Instead of re-writing, Frances just trims (or does she fold?! I wish I could see the scene again, and apologise for any other falsely-remembered details contained here!) the piece of paper. The film ends with a close-up, held over the credits for quite some time, of the finished result: ‘FRANCES HA’.
This detail is lent some weight by being the last image we see, and also by finally explaining the film’s title. And its implications when it is treated as a symbol are a nice fit with the rest of the film, and a nice note to end on. Over the course of Frances Ha, we see Frances suffer embarrassment, financial hardship, insecure employment, and difficult friendships. In the film’s closing minutes, though, we see a series of small triumphs, which cluster around a dance recital that Frances has choreographed and put on. Frances achieves some measure of artistic and professional fulfilment through having planned and executed a short dance sequence featuring a small group of small (and very cute) children, shown to a respectable gathering of friends and acquaintances. At the same event, she receives the praise and approval of her former mentor, and appears to reach reconciliation and a new phase of friendship with her former room mate and best friend Sophie.
Structurally, then, after this event, the writing of a name tag feels like a coda. But it also marks a new beginning, and serves as a(n appropriately-understated) declaration. Frances does not have her name in lights, or even her whole name on display, but there is a label that tells people ‘I am here’. The apartment and all that goes with it may not be enough to accommodate or express Frances’s whole being, but they are a landmark on the journey.