Who’s That Woman?: Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha

Who’s That Woman?: Mickey Sumner in <em>Frances Ha</em>

I wonder if they saw each other from across the room while looking for a fun-house reflection of themselves. I wonder if they found in each other a secret little world. Regardless, Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner met at a party where Gerwig hustled Sumner in a round of Bananagrams, a game that foregrounded their complementary vibrations. Gerwig later claimed that she had “engineered” the moment, pretending she was a novice but knowing full well that she was good at it—and Sumner was happy to play along. Gerwig’s euphoric gamesmanship can be found in her performance in the title role of Frances Ha, a film she cowrote with director Noah Baumbach. Sumner, who auditioned and won the role of Frances’s friend Sophie, functions as something like a straight man to the lead’s hurricane of unpredictability: she’s the necessary play pal, and just like in that game of Bananagrams, she needs Gerwig to keep her on her toes and parry her every spar.

Even as Sophie serves as a foil, she is also a mirror, one in which Frances can see herself as she was, as she is now, and as she would like to be. The mirror concept is introduced in the film’s opening shot, which shows the two friends in a park, facing one another. Sophie’s hands are up, maybe in offense or maybe in defense, while Frances’s arms are momentarily slack at her side before she raises her fists to eye level. Both stances suggest a kind of looseness and playfulness; the women are clearly more invested in their bodies being in motion than in anyone winning or losing. It’s difficult to discern who makes the first move; maybe they’re moving together, at the same time. And as the film unfolds, with each passing activity they share (dancing in the park, reading and crocheting, smoking on the fire escape, playing backgammon, doing laundry, falling asleep while watching a movie), Frances’s and Sophie’s distinct personalities often seem to dissolve into one.

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