Mistress America (2015)
A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach
Produced by: Noah Baumbach, Eli Bush, Oscar Boyson, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lila Yacoub.
Starring: Lola Kirke, Greta Gerwig.
I loved FRANCES HA, the last collaboration between Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. It was film that was funny, and a film that abandoned the three act structure in a smart way. Gerwig and Baumbach's latest film, MISTRESS AMERICA; is more committed to formula than FRANCES HA, but is no less funny or whip-smart.
Tracy (Lola Kirke) just started college in New York. She is trying to get into an exclusive writer's club, the Mobius, but is continually rejected. Her mother wants her to go meet Brooke (Gerwig), whose dad she is planning to marry. Tracy and Brooke hit it off almost instantly. Tracy begins to write a short story about Brooke shortly after first meeting her, using her as a tool to get into one of the Mobius. Aspects of this dynamic are formulaic, but the film treats both of its characters with respect, and the inevitable payoff, a fight they have after they go to Connecticut, offers some of the best absurdist comedy I've seen this year.
One thing I noticed about this movie that I dug was that Gerwig and Kirke both have normal body types. This offers a sense of authenticity that the film might not have been able to generate otherwise. It seems like nothing, but it turned into something that worked in the film's favor. One thing I also liked is the use of a narration to demonstrate Tracy's prose. We see how she interprets these people in her life into her story, and its a great way to develop her character.
The script is fantastic as well, but it wouldn't work without the chemistry that Kirke and Gerwig have with each other. This script requires snappy delivery, and this cast has it in spades. The script plays like a really fun night you just had with a really cool person you know. It has a spark to it, a sense of realism almost as though, not unlike Tracy, Baumbach took it from his own life.
MISTRESS AMERICA is a film where the comedy comes from the characters and their experiences. The comic timing is consistent and the acting is solid. It is a formulaic film, but it commits to this formula in fun and interesting ways. While it abides by formula, it is not a stupid film; creating two characters that live and breathe, two characters of different ages who are both struggling for identity. It is a minor addition to Baumbach's filmography, but even minor Baumbach is still something special.