Film / Theatre Reviews - Reviews

Mistress America


With Frances Ha and While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach had made a pretty convincing argument that the most recent act of his reasonably long career is the strongest. Both films tackled ideas of identity, maturity and creativity with a delicate hand and a great deal of profundity and it pleases me to say that his latest effort, his second of 2015, Mistress America sits comfortably alongside the calibre of his previous two efforts. The picture, Baumbach’s second with writer, star and all round charming presence Greta Gerwig, is at its heart a screwball dramedy about growing old, developing a personality and the end of this kind of magical mythologized New York of olde.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college freshman trying to carve out an identity for herself. After several false starts, she reaches out to her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), for some advice and support. An adventurous freespirit, Brooke walks Tracey through the ups and down of her life as she tries to achieve her dream of opening her own restaurant. What needs to be said outright is that Gerwig is impeccably played. She’s a barely functional whirlwind of a person who in lesser hands could have veered into Manic Pixie territory. But under Gerwig’s control, she’s an obnoxious, idiosyncratic, contradictory, self-absorbed and, at times, downright mean presence who is fundamentally tragic. She’s someone who spent every night “living life” and as such has no real skills, job prospects or future, yet is still desperately clutching at all the straws of her old life while the realities of escaping this cycle become more insurmountable. She may well be one of the year’s single most fascinating characters. That’s not to say that the rest of cast are twiddling their thumbs. Lola Kirke lends Tracey this almost sociopathic, tabula rasa sensibility, which bounces masterfully off of Gerwig’s ADHD riddled Brooke.

Given a character like Brooke, the film fits rather snugly into a new niche that Baumbach is carving for himself. His most recent trio work as this kind of self-contained trilogy about maturity in the modern age. The previously defined signposts that would have guided us towards some kind of clarity have all since been torn down or rejected in exchange for this pseudo hippy-bohemian lifestyle that, while granting you some kind of freedom, mostly leaves you without any kind of map towards where you really want to go. One of the strengths of this film is the shifting of that focus away from twenty somethings towards an older group. Parents are divorced and meeting their newest partners on free dating websites which they would have shunned in the past. The hipsters who grew out of their youthful phases are massively unsatisfied hypocrites who cling to the former glories of owning an early Mother Love Bone EP as though it’s their own holy grail. No one can really let go of the past or forgive those who have wronged them. They’re all just children in outsized suits. Despite its darker undercurrents, Mistress America is fundamentally a celebration. It’s witty in the best way possible, exquisitely edited and zips along at a very welcome pace. Another great film from Baumbach/Gerwig duo which will leave you salivating for their next endeavor.  Will Murphy