Mistress America (2015) Film Review, a movie directed by Noah Baumbach, and starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Matthew Shear, Kathryn Erbe, and Michael Chernus.
Noah Baumbach reteams with Greta Gerwig after their last outing Frances Ha in another film called Mistress America, a comedy that focuses on two women at different stages in their lives. The movie chronicles the life of Tracy Fishcoe (Lola Kirke), an undergrad who isn’t impressed by her first college experience. Tracy feels unconnected with the campus social scene, unable to make friends, and uncertain about where her life is heading. She finds life in the city to be dull and less dreamy than she thought it would be.
Baumbach does a fun montage of Tracy’s life in college showing her daily routine getting food from the cafeteria and continuing the drop off her short story submission to the student literary magazine. We also see Tracy trying to gain the attention of her college crush Tony (Matthew Shear), who ends up dating another girl from their college, Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas-Jones). After seeing how depressing Tracy’s life is in college, she calls her mother for advice and suggests that she gets to know her fiancé’s daughter Brooke (Greta Gerwig) who also lives in the city. Soon, Tracy’s life gets turned upside down after hanging with her soon-to-be stepsister, a freelance interior designer and entrepreneur who takes her on an adventure in New York’s nightlife and starts discovering herself. Tracy suddenly gets more cheery after hanging with Brooke and sees just how interesting her life is. Brooke is what we see in a woman in her 30s who is career driven and independent.
The film starts to detach itself between the goals of the characters and the comedic elements during the road trip to Greenwich, Connecticut, where Brooke heads over to see her old nemesis in giving her money to invest in a new restaurant she’s opening in Williamsburg. The movie’s plot seems to have been put on hold after the coming-of-age campus story turns into a disastrous eccentric charade. The script gets melodramatic, jokes get dull, and the weird pacing doesn’t change anything. Baumbach has been known for his witty dialogue and has always worked a fine line between exhilarating and overwritten. However, this film ends up with too many lines, a little over packed, and becomes a mouthful for the actors.
This film shows a free spirited woman while learning that, at a certain age, it’s time to grow up and start focusing on the future. That’s pretty much what Brooke is in Mistress America who has all these ideas that she never takes off on. She also has a bitterness towards her former BFF Mamie Claire (Heather Lind), who stole Brooke’s T-shirt idea and made a profit out of it and marries her wealthy ex-boyfriend Dylan (Michael Chernus). Her fun life turns upside down after losing her financial partners for the new restaurant, her boyfriend dumps her, and she gets excavated from her supposedly illegal apartment.
Despite what Brooke is going through, it’s Tracy who is under scrutiny after she exposes her stepsister’s life in a short story that she writes for entry into an exclusive literary club at her campus. She even tricks her classmate Tony and his over jealous girlfriend Nicolette along for the ride. The short story also creates a rift between the two stepsisters who started having a strong bond after hanging out.
Even with its flaws, what makes Mistress America great is the balance of kindness and scrutiny. Baumbach and Gerwig makes their characters recognize their faults, but also makes them redeemable. The film brings in some energetic pacing and creates some awkward comedic sequences that play out really well. Baumbach and Gerwig’s share writing duties and their dialogue becomes clever, hilarious, and at times, pretty fast. The best moments in the movie comes during a quarrel between different personalities. The most memorable comes from the film’s climax when Brooke and Tracy start a squabble that involves all the minor characters, including a next-door neighbor and a member of Claire’s book club.
While Mistress America isn’t one of Baumbach’s best works, it is considered one of the funniest films we’ve seen this year. The film’s winning and witty formula works in a New York setting, which feels like a cross between a classic Woody Allen movie and an oddball comedy. Gerwig certainly has outdone herself and proves that she’s one of the leading multitalented comedic ladies to look out for when it comes to her acting and writing.
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