Review: Mistress America

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.

Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)
84 minutes

Mistress America is released 14th August 2015

Mistress America– Official Website

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Frances Ha: A New Trend of Women on Screen

Frances4

 

Deirdre Mc Mahon praises a refreshing portrayal of female friendship at the centre of a mainstream movie.

The new film Frances Ha is the latest installment in a trend of work depicting awkward, arty girls, coming-of-age in New York. The co-writer and star Greta Gerwig has confessed to taking much inspiration from the hit HBO show Girls, which uses similar themes and setting. Initially this would seem to be aimed at a very niche market, but in practice it is proving to be universally popular. As for the setting – lovingly filmed throughout Frances Ha – everyone is so familiar with New York from TV and film that it could be crowned capital of the screen world. Many can also relate to the idea of having some creative goal they wish to aspire to, but don’t quiet know how to go about it (guilty!).

This new genre also accurately depicts ‘coming-of-age’ as no longer being an era reserved for teenagers and college students, but can now span from your 20s right into your 30s (guilty again!). It seems to be a general rule that people enjoy watching others awkwardly stumble and fumble through this stage of their lives. From the advent of The Office, this type of cringey humour has proven to be a resounding success. By vicariously watching others embarrass themselves on screen, we seem to lessen the impact of our own cringe-inducing moments. Frances Ha combines all these moderns features with an arty and creative mise-en-scene. With its homage to Truffaut, Woody Allen and Girls, its an refreshing mix of modern day humour shot in a old world style.

Frances Ha is also innovative for another reason. As a mainstream movie co-written by a woman, with a female lead and mostly featuring other female characters, it is something of a rarity. As Hollywood increasingly looks to foreign markets for its profits, the emphasis is on male-dominated action flicks, with females leads fast disappearing from the screen. In the hit films of 2012 from the U.S, just 28.4% of speaking roles were women, compared to 32.8% in 2010. These are incredibly low figures and the fact that they are still shrinking is downright depressing. Not only are women proving grossly under represented on screens, but when they do finally appear they are not often depicted as creatures with any great depth. The majority of modern films now fail what is known as the ‘Bechdel test’, which has three simple requirements:

 

  1. The film must have at least two women in it.
  2. The women must talk to one another….
  3. …. about something besides men.

 

This simple and basic test should be a no-brainer to pass in these supposedly egalitarian times,  but it only takes a few minutes of contemplation to realise how few movies fulfill any of these brief requirements, never mind all three. Ultimately, that is what makes Frances Ha so refreshing and engaging to watch. This is a very dialogue-heavy film with a mostly female cast, and do you know what they’re not talking about? Men! Yes, they’ve got insecurities, they’ve got career problems, money problems, problems with each other. Of course they’ve got relationship issues also, but the point is that they are not talking about them constantly, as if they are the very essence of being. Thank the sun and the stars for this refreshing change.

The main character, Frances, who the camera indulgently follows throughout, is a single girl of 27 in New York. This is a ripe set-up for a ‘single girl in the city’ crisis made popular with Sex and the City. But Frances barely mentions men and seems to show little interest in having a relationship. Her concerns are with furthering a fledgling career as a dancer and her relationship with her best friend Sophie. At the start of the movie, these two seem to have an idyllic life together in their Brooklyn apartment, smoking, talking and going to parties. If anything this movie would seem to promote this lifestyle ahead of the stressful world of relationships.

The opening of film is a brilliant scene where Frances is trying to break up with her boyfriend as she prefers to spend time with Sophie. It is a gloriously funny and awkward affair as she tries to leave his apartment, willfully interpreting his words as meaning they are breaking up, while he is still pleading with her to move in. One could argue that this is Frances being immature and not growing up, as her friend Sophie eventually does. But that’s another wonderful aspect of this movie: aren’t women due some immaturity and irresponsibility? Must we constantly be depicted as the grown-up, mature, relationship-hungry, nagging 50% of the population? We can be fun, silly and afraid of growing up too.

The most lasting and meaningful relationship depicted in the movie is the one between Frances and Sophie. Ultimately, it is their love story which is the heart of the film, as we follow them through fighting, breaking-up and making-up. There’s a wonderful scene mid-way through when Frances is at a grown up dinner party and clearly out of her depth. As she blabbers on about school friends who no one else knows, you want to shout at the screen: shut up girl, just shut up! Then, just as you think she is too socially inept to function, she waxes lyrical about finding someone with who you can have a perfect hidden, world that can be concealed in a single look across a crowded room. In her world, this person is not a boyfriend but her best friend Sophie. With all the ‘bromance’ movies out there, its nice to see a film about female friendship that doesn’t involve a) talking about men troubles constantly or b) end with them driving off the edge of a cliff. Here are women growing up, messing up, trying to figure it all out and not looking all that glamorous while doing it. And I for one can relate to that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: To Rome with Love

DIR: Woody Allen WRI: Woody Allen PRO: Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson,
Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum DOP: Darius Khondji ED: Elise
DuRant DES: Anne Seibel Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Penelope
Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig

Acclaimed as one of the great New York filmmakers, Woody Allen has
made a habit of searching outside his native city for inspiration in
recent years. Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream and You Will Meet
a Tall Dark Stranger were all filmed in London, and he also ventured
to some of Europe’s most exotic locales for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
and Midnight in Paris.

His sojourn in the French capital proved to be fruitful, as not only
was Midnight in Paris a major awards contender (Allen won his fourth
Oscar® for the film’s screenplay), but it was a surprise box-office
hit, raking in upwards of $150 million worldwide.

It is therefore no surprise to see the veteran helmer remaining in
Europe for his latest film, To Rome with Love, which, despite lacking
the invention or lasting appeal of Midnight in Paris, is a perfectly
acceptable addition to Allen’s canon.

Allen himself makes his first appearance since 2006’s Scoop, appearing
in one of four vignettes as Jerry, a retired opera director who
feels the urge to get back in the saddle when he hears his prospective
brother-in-law (tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, but has
to think outside the box when he realises that he is not as
accomplished under normal circumstances.

Elsewhere, Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi are young
newlyweds who become separated in their new city, and fall into the
company of a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) and a movie star (Antonio
Albanese) respectively; Life is Beautiful‘s Roberto Benigni is an
ordinary Joe Soap who wakes up one day to discover that he has become
famous for no apparent reason; while the final story (in chronological
terms) finds Alec Baldwin’s famed architect dishing out relationship
advice to young protege Jesse Eisenberg as he struggles to choose
between his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and her best friend,
played by Ellen Page.

All of the stories do work quite well on an individual basis, and
there are some familiar Allen traits that are clear for all to see.
The subject of infidelity (which has played a major part in his recent
films) is a common theme throughout, and Baldwin’s inexplicable
appearances during the scenes with Eisenberg and Page brings back fond
memories of the Allen-starring Play it Again, Sam when Humphrey Bogart
was the imaginary mentor for the film’s protagonist.

It is also interesting that he has chosen to give equal share in terms
of screen time to the Italian stars, with Benigni enjoying a welcome
return to mainstream cinema after a 10-year gap, and bright
young things Tiberi and Mastronardi making for an engaging screen
pair.

Overall, the film works better as a series of moments rather than as a
wholly satisfying picture, and there is certainly no danger of To Rome with Love
ever challenging films like Manhattan, Annie Hall, Sleeper
or Love and Death as one of his very best.

However, as a comedy, the film does succeed on a number of levels, and
there are plenty of laughs to be had along the way. Allen, despite
giving himself a limited enough role on this occasion, has some
trademark zingers and one-liners that only he could deliver, and
Baldwin is in his prime 30 Rock form throughout, stealing every scene
that he is in with plenty of gusto and no little verve.

For those expecting Allen to repeat the winning formula that
brought such attention towards Midnight in Paris, they will probably be
left disappointed by his latest film, but for those who still hold a
fondness for his ‘early, funny ones’ and are looking for something
that will help to pass the time in an agreeable manner (as well as
something with a penchant for absurdity), then they might well find
something to enjoy in To Rome with Love.

Daire Walsh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
111 mins

To Rome with Love is released on 14th September 2012

To Rome with Love – Official Website

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Greenberg

Greenberg

DIR: Noah Baumbach • WRI: Noah Baumbach, Jennifer Jason Leigh • PRO: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Rudin • DOP: Harris Savides • ED: Tim Streeto • DES: Ford Wheeler • CAST: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Juno Temple

After the incisive The Squid and the Whale and the less warmly received but equally brilliant Margot at the Wedding, it seemed that Noah Baumbach was on something of a roll this past decade. Unfortunately Greenberg grinds him to a complete halt – it’s a film as low-key and lifeless as its central character – a failed musician and middle-aged slacker, recently discharged from a psychiatric ward, whose sole purpose in life now is to do nothing – hardly the stuff of cinematic gold.

Roger Greenberg, played by an almost inanimate Ben Stiller, is house-sitting for his brother for six weeks in LA, spending his days building a house for their dog and writing letters of complaint to big corporations. During this time he catches up with old friends and also meets his brother’s eager personal assistant – a young woman named Florence, played by fresh-faced Greta Gerwig in a wonderfully natural turn. She counters all of Greenberg’s jaded cynicism with ditzy charm and a slight lack of self-esteem evidenced by how easily she falls for him. Why a young woman as attractive and seemingly intelligent as Florence would be drawn to this loser is a mystery never questioned in the film – the audience is expected to watch this queasy sort of reluctant romance unfold, very slowly and without much consequence.

The film’s story was devised by Baumbach and his wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who also plays a brief role as Greenberg’s ex-girlfriend in the film. Unfortunately, there’s not much to it – nothing to really to drive the film forward – neither the inexplicable central relationship nor the irrelevant illness of Greenberg’s brother’s dog. Perhaps this is intentional, to underline Greenberg’s inertia; the majority of the shots in the film are static and observational – but without much action to observe it starts to feel very lethargic.

There are some highlights. In a droll exchange with his former bandmate Ivan Schrank, played by Rhys Ifans, Schrank recalls the old adage ‘Youth is wasted on the young’, to which Greenberg replies, ‘I’d go further, I’d go life is wasted on…people’ – one of the few really funny lines in the film, basically summing up the message of the movie. When Greenberg’s niece returns home and throws a house party, it lands Greenberg in a room full of 20-something scenesters – he clashes with the modern generation of youth, cementing his belief that he’s completely out of touch with the world.

Ultimately this is a film about the disappointments in life, the regrets this rather reprehensible character has. There’s not much offered in terms of a resolution, or even a series of events leading up to one. Full of bitter exchanges and misunderstandings, it ultimately feels like a waste of time – Gerwig’s performance being one of the few bright spots. Perhaps it’s a cautionary tale to anyone whose life is lacking in direction, but hardly a satisfying way to kill two hours in the cinema.

Eoghan McQuinn

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Greenberg
is released on 11th June 2010

Greenberg Official Website

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