Frances Halladay is a 27-year-old dancer who lives in New York City with her best friend from college, Sophie. Her life is upended when Sophie tells her she plans to relocate from Brooklyn to Tribeca, which Sophie considers her dream neighborhood. Frances, a struggling would-be dancer working as an apprentice at a dance company, is unable to afford the move and is forced to find someplace else to live.
She moves to Chinatown and shares an apartment with her friends Lev and Benji for a brief period. Sophie and Frances’s relationship struggles as Sophie and her boyfriend, Patch, grow closer. Frances learns that the dance company does not need her to work their Christmas show, which means Frances can no longer afford the apartment. She visits her hometown of Sacramento for Christmas where she sees her family and reconnects with high school friends.
Rachel, a fellow dancer in the company, lets Frances stay with her for a few weeks. During dinner with Rachel’s family, Frances discovers that Sophie has quit her job at Random House and is moving to Tokyo with Patch. Frances, on a whim, decides to spend an uneventful couple of days in Paris that she pays for with credit card. She returns to Vassar, her alma mater, to work as a waitress and summer resident assistant. Overworked and not allowed to take classes, Frances reads Sophie’s blog of her life in Japan.
One night, Sophie and Patch are at an alumni auction Frances is waitressing for, where she learns they are engaged and witnesses the couple get into a fight. She lets a drunk Sophie stay with her in the dorm room she’s been given, where Sophie reveals that she suffered a miscarriage while in Japan and is unhappy in her relationship. Sophie goes back to New York City the next morning; she leaves a note for Frances. Some time later, Frances returns to Washington Heights in Manhattan. She laments her dire financial situation, her poor prospects as a professional dancer, and her increasingly strained relationship with Sophie.
Frances eventually reconciles with Sophie and enjoys a modest but satisfying existence as a fledgling choreographer, teaching dance to young children, and as a bookkeeper for her former dance company. She starts exploring a potential relationship with Benji and rents her own apartment. Upon moving in, Frances writes her name down onto a slip of paper in order to mark her new mailbox. Her full last name does not fit, so she folds the paper to read: “Frances Ha.”