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Mistress America – Film Review


Mistress America – Film Review by C.K. MacNamara

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind.

Beginning with what seems like a schlocky ‘growing up in the big city’ story Mistress America blissfully evolves into one of the smartest comedies in recent years. An inward looking caricature of New York dreamers, Baumbach and Gerwig’s writing walks the fine line of having their characters both caricature and genuine, someone to relate to whose ridiculousness you can laugh and all in the same breath.

The sheltered wallflower Tracy is floundering as a freshman in New York’s art college scene, trapped against the kinds of ‘artistes’ who can wield a tweed jacket and a reef of first draft short stories with all the self-confidence of an emerging narcissist crafting his ‘look’. In search of genuine humanity, she attempts to contact the family of her mother’s impending remarriage, a soon to be stepsister supposedly thriving in Time Square.

The cast of college cartoon characters are established, and then allowed to zing off each other in the backdrop to Gerwig’s lead character, the ingeniously written stepsister Brook. A self-described aerobics instructor/interior designer/social media expert whose alternate reality existence in the glare of Times Square hides the fact she is tailspinning out of control.

Tracy trails behind Brook into a world of corner clubs and loft parties, as it slowly dawns on her that all this would make a prime source of writing inspiration; and if some character assassination creeps in so be it.

Baumach/Gerwig’s satirical writing is a showcase for all to follow; a certain soon to be classic setpiece wherein the screwball cast descend on the upscale Connecticut home of Brook’s former ‘business partner’, a high-strung housewife as warped and sheltered as the folk invading her home. Brook needs money for her restaurant idea, she’s been talking about it for years, but this time she really means it! Simply put, the ensuing scenes are the finest screwball spectacle in recent years.

The enjoyment is not without some occasional deadpan moments, and the film would benefit from trimming some of the fatty lace away from the core credentials, though this is mere nitpicking against what is an otherwise idol of comedic character writing. Baumbach and Gerwig cemented their credentials with Frances Ha, and the back and forth zaniness of Mistress America adds another glittering exception to formulaic character writing, and a shining contender for film of the year.


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