Two recent films about creative females in New York, Girl Most Likely and Frances Ha, depict events that eventually lead each artist towards achievement, authenticity, and individuation. Aspects of the puella archetype, a female who refuses to grow up, resonate with both of their stories.
In Girl Most Likely, Imogene (played by Kristin Wiig) is a would-be playwright who has never had a play produced. Currently in despair over losing her magazine job and her Dutch boyfriend (Brian Petsos), Imogene stages a fake suicide and ends up in recovery at her unconventional childhood home in New Jersey. There, she contends with her zany mother Zelda (Annette Bening), her mother's lover, George, who claims to be a CIA agent (Matt Dillon), and her crab-loving inventor-brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald). Adding to the domestic discord is a young boarder now renting her old bedroom, Lee (Darren Criss). Much to Imogene's dismay, she's no longer allowed to occupy her old room. One psychological constant for Imogene is a lamentation for her departed father (Bob Balaban), whom Imogene has come to idealize. Her fearful brother, too, shows signs of psychological wounding, with his devotion to mollusks, exoskeletons, and his invention of an exosuit/shell for protection.
Girl Most Likely begins with a scene of Imogene as a young girl, starring as Dorothy in a stage version of The Wizard of Oz, and wanting to rewrite the text based on her own feelings. The charming adult Imogene shows classic signs of this puella energy: won a writing award but cannot complete the script; cannot keep her blurb-writing job due to her childish ego; an inauthentic romance that fizzles, and the eventual loss of her apartment and possessions. Even her staged suicide fails, in that it returns Imogene to her mother and does not win back her boyfriend. The title refers to how Imogene was once named as "one of the important playwrights to watch" by New York Magazine, a promise she has yet to fulfill.
Written by Michelle Morgan, and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, Girl Most Likely centers on Imogene's search for finding out who she really is, and recognizing the weaknesses of the glitzy, tony crowd she aspired to be part of in the city, including a betrayal by her "best friend" (Dara, portrayed by June Diane Raphael). Imogene's healing begins as she comes to understand old family patterns, including the reality of her parents' marriage. When she loses access to her belongings, she's forced to rifle through her old boxes in the basement in New Jersey and wear old clothes. It is through sifting through the past, starting at the foundations, that she finds a path to transformation.
The puer/puella archetype of Eternal Youth or puer aeternus, part of the Senex-Puer axis, is, according to James Hillman in Puer Papers, "the seed of spirit." Marie-Louise Von Franz, in The Problem of the Puer Aeternus, describes the puer as someone who lingers too long in adolescence. Von Franz also writes: "In the really great artist there is always a puer at first, but it can go further. If a man ceases to be an artist when he ceases to be a puer, then he never really was an artist." By the end, the true artist in Imogene is realized, as she's able to fulfill her promise as a playwright.
In Frances Ha, written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, directed by Baumbach, Gerwig stars in the eponymous role. Frances, a sweet dancer, is always in need of a place to live, and cannot sustain a romantic relationship in spite of her beauty and charisma (in fact, she's referred to as "undatable" through most of the film). She's 27 but still only a dance apprentice.
Instead, most of her life centers on her female friendship with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), whom Frances has been devoted to since her undergrad days at college (unnamed, but apparently Vassar). Frances' identity is deeply tied to Sophie; a line repeated in the film by Frances is that she and Sophie are the same person, a concept apparently not reciprocated entirely by Sophie. Sophie has a good job with a publishing house, and a steady boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger). Early in the film, Frances ends a romance in order to keep sharing an apartment with Sophie; later, Sophie ends the roommate arrangement to move in with Patch, leaving Frances with nowhere to live. Frances is always broke, and others fill in for her in terms of rent.
Frances eventually moves in with two artsy male roommates (Adam Driver as Lev and Michael Zegen as Benji), but when she learns she's cut from the dance company's Christmas show, she flees New York. First, she returns home to Sacramento to her parents, then stays with another dancer in New York, then borrows an apartment in Paris, before returning to New York in time to be offered an office job at the dance company -- instead of being moved up as a full company member. Thinking of herself as an artist only, she turns the job down.
Frances exhibits many attributes of a puella, including lack of financial responsibility and inability to launch her own creative career. She likes to "play-fight" like a toddler; she seemingly can't leave college behind, even reverting back to it in the summer to work as part of the events staff, a position suitable for a student. When Frances flies to Paris on a whim, she doesn't know what to do with herself when she gets there, eventually going to see Puss 'N Boots at the movies.
Both films involve female creatives in New York who must revisit the past, come to terms with current female friends, and forge new paths to break from their puella-related ruts. And both films end with celebrations of artistic achievements: a new hit play by Imogene and a triumphant dance recital choreographed by Frances, with all of her friends in attendance.
Each character shows a change in behavior after her creativity shines. Imogene foregoes a chance to hang out with famous people, and instead drives away with her family in a limo rented by the hour. Frances' new independence is clearly delineated in the closing moments of the film, in which she writes her name out on her new apartment mailbox. This time, she's the sole renter; the celebrated space is hers alone.