Review: Mistress America
Noah Baumbach’s career took a turn with his 2010 film Greenberg. That film showed the director taking an interest in a younger generation. He continued to examine the relationships of those in their mid-late-twenties with Frances Ha and While We’re Young. With his latest film Mistress America, Baumbach reteams with actress/writer/girlfriend Greta Gerwig to examine the millennial crisis in New York.
Lola Kirke stars as Tracy Fishko a Barnard freshman struggling to find her place at college. After a prestigious literary club rejects her short story, Tracy goes in search of inspiration. This inspiration comes in the form of Brooke Cardinas (Gerwig), Tracy’s soon-to-be stepsister. Brooke represents everything Tracy thinks that she wants to be. Brooke is an autodidact (a word she self-taught herself), an interior designer, a fitness instructor, and soon to be restaurant owner. When an investor backs out, decides to confront her nemesis Mamie Claire (Heather Lind) and ex-boyfriend Dylan (Orange is the New Black’s Michael Chernus) in a plea for funding at their Greenwich Connecticut home. Taking Tracy, Tracy’s almost boyfriend (Matthew Shear), and his current girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas-Jones) along for the ride, chaos ensues.
There are of course comparisons to be made with Baumbach and Gerwig’s last collaboration Frances Ha, but it is important to note that Gerwig is playing an entirely different character. Frances was a woman who had no idea what to do with her life. In a sense, she was stuck, trying to find her way in a sea of people who were moving forward. Brooke, is that exact opposite. Brooke is constantly moving forward, and what she truly needs is to be able to slow down to analyze her surroundings.
The first half of the film follows Tracy and Brooke’s escapes throughout the city, but it is the second act where the film falls into its screwball glory. When the entire cast ends up at Dylan’s home, things erupt into what could easily pass as an Edward Albee play, if Albee smoked some crack and hated millennials. By this point in the film, audiences will have fallen so deeply in love with Brooke, that she can really get away with anything.
Gerwig has been showing off her talents for the past few years, so it is Lola Kirke who really grabs attention here. Kirke appeared in a small but memorable role in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and also stars in the wonderful Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle. With her subtle but noticeable lisp and great comic timing, Kirke is sure to win hearts.
Mistress America is one of Baumbach’s most playful films to date. It never takes itself too seriously, which is one of the many reasons why it works so well. While Baumbach’s style is clear throughout, it is co-writer Greta Gerwig who really needs to be given the credit. Good luck keeping up with her though.