Why complaining Fran Lebowitz is the grumpy hero we all need right now

Claire Maxwell
·4-min read
Photo credit: Bei/Shutterstock
Photo credit: Bei/Shutterstock

From Harper's BAZAAR

Still half asleep and scrolling through my emails in bed this morning, I noticed one advertising an online event with Fran Lebowitz. I clicked through, pressed ‘buy now’, not bothering to read the blurb or pay much attention to how much it cost, it didn’t matter. A newly discovered vice: I needed more Fran. The money buzzed out of my Monzo app and I wrote the date in my diary.

Who would have thought that what we needed right now – in the midst of a pandemic and multiple lockdowns and endless Zoom quiz nights – was a few hours of watching the 70-year-old writer Fran Lebowitz complaining about stuff. The new Netflix series, Pretend It's A City, directed by Martin Scorsese is made up of conversations between Lebowitz and Scorsese (as well as Alec Baldwin, Olivia Wilde, Toni Morrison and others), interspersed with artfully shot montage scenes of Lebowitz, dressed in signature dark suit and glasses, walking around New York and death-staring any fellow city-dwellers who dare walk within a metre of her.

I watched the series slowly, eking out each episode, not wanting it to end – finding it truly therapeutic in its attitude. Fran Lebowitz is grumpy, critical and resistant to change. The series delves into a variety of modern topics including wellness culture, technology and e-cigarettes. When someone tried to explain Twitter to her (she doesn’t own a cell phone, let alone have a Twitter account) she explained, “I don’t not have these things because I don’t know what they are, I don’t have these things because I do know what they are.”

I’m not the only one to have fallen hard for Fran. According to the social media platforms that she so enthusiastically resists, a lot of millennial women have developed a crush on this human antithesis to millennial culture. We are a generation struggling under the weight of self-consciousness, mental health disorders and a housing market that leaves many of us at the mercy of a private landlord. We are under pressure to eat clean, do yoga five times a week and – if Gwyneth Paltrow has anything to do with it – insert $66 jade ‘eggs’ into our vaginas. In Fran’s own words: "About one third of people in the street in New York City have a yoga mat. That alone would keep me from yoga." She has “never made a good real estate decision in [her] life”. She hates working and would prefer to lie on her sofa and read all day. She doesn’t believe in guilty pleasures (“I don’t feel guilt at feeling pleasure”). She is unashamedly herself, and all the cooler for it. In a society that fetishes youth, health, and the monetisation of everything we do, this attitude feels revolutionary. Her lack of self-consciousness and self-loathing is defiant and freeing.

Perhaps the success of the series reflects a yearning for something new (or old). This past year, while we’ve all been working from home and only allowed outside for a walk, we have been offered an opportunity to consider what elements of life truly serve us. What I’ve learned from Fran Lebowitz is that an absence of advice, pressure and self-help is conversely the self-help we need. The way millennial women have rapturously welcomed the defiant, irreverent attitude of an older woman is surely a reflection of a collective feeling. A dissatisfaction with the mould we are cramming ourselves into every day.

There is something both revolutionary and amusing about a woman in her 70s admitting a lot of people are angry she’s not dead because she’s smoked so many cigarettes. Her dismissal of the concept of the guilty pleasure is evidence of her life philosophy – one of complete personal authenticity (although I’m sure she’d hate to use that word) – and her incredulity at the idea of undertaking a physical challenge slightly blew my mind in its simplicity: “Climbing a mountain is a fake challenge. You don’t have to climb a mountain. A challenge is something you have to do. Not something you make up… I find real life challenging enough.”

Photo credit: Patrick McMullan
Photo credit: Patrick McMullan

Although resistant to modern advances, Lebowitz doesn’t sound imbittered by them. She likes things that all good hipsters claim to hate - parties, fashion and city living. Just her complaining is refreshing in a time when it’s seen as inappropriate to do so. Our world is unpredictable and inconsistent at the moment, but Fran Lebowitz with all her wit, frustrations and grumpiness is a reliable constant. She is more than willing to accept that her experience isn’t everyone’s and that’s part of what makes her such an appealing character. It doesn’t matter that her experience is different, she doesn’t need everyone to agree with her, she is wholly and uncompromisingly herself.


In need of some at-home inspiration? Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for skincare and self-care, the latest cultural hits to read and download, and the little luxuries that make staying in so much more satisfying.

SIGN UP

Plus, sign up here to get Harper’s Bazaar magazine delivered straight to your door.

SIGN UP

You Might Also Like