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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While We’re Young

DIR/WRI: Noah Baumbach •  PRO: Noah Baumbach, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub • DOP: Sam Levy • ED: Jennifer Lame • MUS: James Murphy • DES: Adam Stockhausen • CAST: Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

 

Noah Baumbach adapts to the human condition vision that has been demonstrated by filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Paul Mazurzky and Jean Luc Godard, but his work still has a sense of emergence and contemporary relevance that feels fresh.

 

A recurring theme within Baumbach’s last two films (Greenberg/Frances, Ha) was anxiety and a sense of identity crisis. Greenberg dealt with a middle-aged identity crisis, Frances, Ha a quarter-aged, with his latest, While We’re Young, he is dissecting both with sharp comedic commentary.

 

Stagnated in their mundane marriage, Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) suffer from denial and bombarding pressure from their friends, who insist they must have children in order to drive their marriage forward. Josh, a documentarian, has spent ten years working on his never-ending and self-indulgent film that is so convoluted he can’t even describe it, in a sense of defeat he usually quips, “it’s really about America”. He’s too stubborn to get support from his father-in-law Leslie (Charles Grodin), who is a profound maverick within the documentary film world. The college where he lectures is his bank.

 

He meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) after one of his lectures and immediately succumbs to their youthful charm and spontaneity. He soon figures that these two young hipsters (an aspiring documentarian and an organic ice cream entrepreneur) are the revelation him and his wife need to rejuvenate their lives.

 

The early stages of this ageless foursome are the film’s strongest comic observations. Baumbach portrays the contrasts of young and old in contemporary society. While Jamie and Darby adhere to the retro lifestyle of listening to vinyl, watching VHS and abstaining from Facebook, our elders, Josh and Cornelia, are constantly logged in and using the latest technology today has to offer. It’s an interesting examination of a generational culture reversal.

 

Josh and Cornelia stray from their mature friends and adapt to Jamie and Darby’s lifestyle, whether it’s hip-hop dance classes, hipster barbeques or Ayahuasca awakenings. After exhilarating highs come tremendous lows and paranoia. The fear of youth begins to possess Josh, as he grows more and more suspicious of Jamie’s intentions and authenticity as a documentarian.

 

A few lines from Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder that are shown to us at the beginning of the movie grow more intensely as Josh retreats from the fountain of youth when he sees Jamie for who he really is and the power he has. The anxiety of ageing creeps back into his consciousness.

 

However, Baumbach’s movie isn’t about people’s fear of the youth, but more about people’s anxiety about their personal identity and existence. Darby delivers the message of the movie by explaining to Josh that her and Jamie will grow old like everybody else, suggesting that all the generational pop culture iconography can’t prevent the inevitable. We all grow old we all die.

 

Undoubtedly, Woody Allen’s observational comedy rings throughout the movie. The climax between Josh and Jamie is reminiscent of Murders and Misdemeanors, but in the wider scope of things I was reminded of Midnight in Paris and its resolution. In this instance, Baumbach is focusing on age anxiety rather than Woody’s era anxiety, but the message is the same: we all fantasize about living in a different time, place or shoes, but at the end of the day we must adapt to our own lives and prosper.

 

Even though I’m whipping out big bad words such as anxiety, fear and death, don’t tie the noose quite yet. This movie is not a solemn glimpse into the abyss, but a perfectly, tightly knit comedy with a vibrant soundtrack that should reflect upon any audience, regardless of age.

 

Cormac O’Meara

 

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
96 minutes

While We’re Young is released 3rd April 2015

While We’re Young – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Frances Ha

Frances-ha

 

DIR: Noah Baumbach • WRI: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig •  PRO: Noah Baumbach, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lila Yacoub • DOP: Sam Levy • ED: Jennifer Lame • DES: Sam Lisenco • Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver

 

Frances lives for her toe-tapping joviality, play fights and late night pillow chats until her best friend and playmate Sophie moves out to live with her successful boyfriend. What follows is a quaint New York odyssey as Frances attempts to lose herself in any friends and acquaintances that might distract her from the quarter-life crisis descending upon her.

 

Baumbach’s seventh outing as director is a lovingly crafted testament to the young and restless, that endlessly ambitious but aimless period of post college calamity with writing partner and muse Greta Gerwig glittering in black and white glory as the aforementioned heroine seeking direction in all the wrong places.

 

Frances’s dilemma renders her awkwardly self-conscious in social circles, a foil that follows into her modern dance class as she struggles to maintain the grace and poise of her fellow students. An elegance of performance on Gerwig’s part utilises every inflection possible not to draw sympathy for Frances but a sense of endearment towards her exuberant personality and unwavering (sometimes squirm-inducing) honesty.

 

While the freewheeling narrative isn’t for everyone there’s some beautiful throwaway lines of improvised humour confident enough to poke fun at its hipster trappings and the Bowie soundtrack is sure to cause some toe-tapping in the aisles.

Anthony Assad

85 mins
15A (see IFCO website for details)
Frances Ha is released on 25th July 2013

Frances Ha – 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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