Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #93

The actor:Greta Gerwig
The character:Frances Halladay
The film:Frances Ha
The quote:“I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.”

Remember when Greta Gerwig didn’t get an Best Director nomination for Little Women and everyone, especially me, freaked out? In retrospect, more of us should have been freaking out about Greta Gerwig not getting/winning Best Actress for Frances Ha back in 2012. Frances Ha has been closed in by history a little bit, by Gerwig’s later work (Lady Bird is functionally a prequel) and by Girls, which debuted on HBO months before Frances Ha showed up at Telluride and then a full year before it made it to wide release. The comparison that makes more sense to me is a much older one: Annie Hall. What unifies Diane Keaton’s performance in that film is Annie’s allergy to irony; she is a woman living in a real world that coheres for her when it coheres in her senses. It makes her personally serious, even if the effect for us is frequently comic. It’s similar for Frances, who is much more serious than Annie and thus much more comic. Paddling doesn’t hurt as much as the phrase “unemployed dancer in New York City at twenty-seven,” and yet that’s where Frances has planted her perpetually wrinkled flag.

There should be irony in this line. She takes Lev out to dinner because she’s just gotten her tax refund and wants to splurge a little bit, only to find that the refund has not made it to her account once the bill comes. She has a single idea in her mind: she wants to take him to dinner. It doesn’t matter if Lev pays for it in that moment (Adam Driver, to his credit, plays this scene with an equivalently maniacal devotion to what Gerwig wants) and then Frances pays him back later. For almost all of us this would be the same result, with a couple abashed teehees in there for a story to tell later on. For Frances, Lev paying for the dinner at any point when this was her idea is unthinkable. It is so unthinkable that the world itself changes for her, bending itself to her benignly idiotic will. (That this describes so, so much of the movie is probably why this flick, for my money Baumbach’s best, is pickles or olives or blue cheese for audiences. You either will order something because of it or you’ll pass the pickle over to the other person at the table.) When she says “I’m so embarrassed, I’m not a real person yet,” it’s funny because she means it. There is no self-deprecation in the line, no wink or hand gesture to take the onus off of her. It’s even funnier because she doesn’t have to say it for it to be true. We’ve seen her galumph through the streets ourselves.

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