Dir: Noah Baumbach (2015)
Indie golden couple Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach re-team and co-write this small crewed, low-budget almost winner, coming only four months after While We’re Young. If that film marvelled at the ever shrinking generation gap perhaps Mistress America goes one step further when a young student named Tracy (Lola Kirke) starts her literature course in New York City and connects with her soon to be step sister; Gerwig’s brash and kinetic thirty-something, Brooke. Baumbach seems infatuated with youth and exuberance of late but the young star and slightly older director cleverly taint with melancholy and a wisdom beyond their years.
Tracy’s admiration for Brooke is the centrepiece of the story; Boyfriends, parents and authority figures are all but absent and as the young students awe for her new sibling grows so does Tracy’s character. She uses the scattershot, positivity and flippancy of Brooke as the basis for a short story and finds a jealousy bubbling up as she tries to find herself in the big bad city. The yoga, loving, maths teaching, wannabe restaurateur certainly intoxicates though she, much like Frances Ha, would almost defiantly be a real life mental drain on anyone around her; Something which Gerwig obviously revels in, she’s perfect as Brooke.
For all of Gerwig’s rambling wild likability Kirke more than holds her own. By the time we get to the crux of the film, a trip to Connecticut with Tracy’s perhaps love and his cloying girlfriend to convince a wealthy ex of sorts for a cash injection, she’s really grown into her skin. It’s also in the house of Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind), the woman who stole the ex in question (and a few of Brooke’s many, many, half-baked ideas) where Mistress America peaks. Baumbach conducts the action like a quick fire game of wordy battleship, roaming between characters with a new fluidity.
Though not quite as cutting as While We’re Young or as pretty or complicated as Frances Ha, there is a winning tone in Mistress America which feels right. The leads nail it and the sentiment (though hidden in what a lot of people may consider pretentiousness) takes its cues from a very pretentious time and within a very pretentious world. Baumbach knows this all too well and though his often vicious urgency may not be as apparent here, this is another good addition to a very impressive body of work which deals with the young and the desperate.