DIR: Noah Baumbach • WRI: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig • PRO: Noah Baumbach, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lila Yacoub • DOP: Sam Levy • ED: Jennifer Lame • DES: Sam Lisenco • MUS: Britta Phillips, Dean Wareham • CAST: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Matthew Shear
Baumbach and Gerwig once again bring out the charm and disillusionment of young, urban dwelling ‘creative-types’ in their newest collaboration, self-appointed douchebags and all. This feels like a pot already stirred by the real-life couple in 2012’s Frances Ha, but Mistress America stands alone as a comedy ever-dangling on the edge of farcical brilliance.
We meet Tracy (Lola Kirke), a college freshman, whose move to the Big Apple has proved to be more than a little disappointing. Struggling to find her footing in this new environment, and her short story being mercilessly rejected by the school’s prestigious literary club to boot, Tracy finds herself adrift. That is until her mother suggests she contacts her soon-to-be step-sister Brooke (Greta Gerwig), a vivacious 30-year-old who “lives life with purpose”, but without any real sense of direction. Being a little bit directionless herself, Tracy quickly latches onto to Brooke’s seemingly enviable life. She knows the who’s who of New York, she dances on stage with bands, has a rich boyfriend who’s in Greece “betting on the economy or something”, lives in a chic loft apartment (even though it’s technically a commercial space), and jumps from one occupation to another, never stopping to think of her limitations because she has none.
Except, of course, that she does.
Brooke’s dreams are pinned on opening her own family-restaurant-cum-community-space in Williamsburg, where she believes she’ll finally find her niche in life. Having left her twenties with the realisation that none of her achievements have led to any sort of fulfilment, and with so many aspirations still lingering, Brooke’s hectic lifestyle has begun to catch up with her. In her would-be-step-sister’s personal crisis Tracy finds great material for her newest short story- morally questionable or not. The self-delusion of youth (and specifically, as stated above, ‘creative-types’) is explored throughout the film in a way that many who have dabbled in some form of artistic pursuit can relate to. Tracy, along with her writer friends, long to fit in yet consistently hold themselves apart from others, believing secretly that they have been called to a higher purpose in life than their counterparts. All allusions to pretension or narcissism are brilliantly dismantled, however, in the film’s second act wherein several characters find themselves in Brooke’s ex-fiancés mansion in Connecticut for…reasons. The scenes that subsequently follow are a perfect example of Baumbach’s deft-hand in directing farce and Gerwig’s on-point writing. Beyond doubt, the film’s middle section is what sets it apart from any other works of the same ilk.
But it is Greta Gerwig’s nuanced performance that really makes the film. We’ve all known someone like Brooke in our own lives, for better or worse, and Gerwig plays her with such effortless charm that it’s impossible not to be seduced by her. Brooke is the person we all wish we to be if we could only free ourselves from our inhibitions. Kirke’s turn as Tracy also deserves kudos, managing to both bring across the character’s flaws while keeping her empathetic.
This is an engagingly funny film that grips the audience from the get-go and touches on issues that won’t relate to everyone, but to lot of people at the same time. A must see.
15A (See IFCO for details)