Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig / Directed by Noah Baumbach / Starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke and Matthew Shear
Brooke: I’m going to shorten that, punch it up and turn it into a tweet.
If I had to have a mistress, I would choose Greta Gerwig, hands down. More specifically, I would choose Gerwig when she is paired with Noah Baumbach as a partner in crime. And while that might get a little messy in the bedroom, if it provides the kind of hilarity, insight and depth that it did when they combined forces to make FRANCES HA, all of which has been escalated to new heights in their latest collaboration, MISTRESS AMERICA, then all the mess will well be worth it.
There was something so seemingly effortless about the work these two did together on FRANCES HA and that breeziness spills over abundantly into MISTRESS AMERICA. Gerwig is no longer the protagonist but she is still the focus. Instead, our heroine, if she can really be called that considering how callously she treats everyone in her inner circle, is Tracy (Lola Kirke), a college freshman who has just moved to New York to pursue creative writing. The world is her oyster but the world doesn’t really seem to want to have anything to do with her either. She can’t seem to connect with anyone at school; she can’t get her work into the snotty university short story revue; and the boy she likes (Matthew Shear) likes someone else. Then one day, she decides to take her mother’s advice and call up her soon to be stepsister so that they might meet and end her loneliness and boredom. Enter Brooke (Gerwig) and along with her comes chaos, clarity and the aforementioned callousness.
In Brooke, Tracy finds an idol and an inspiration. At first, it seems as though Brooke is exactly who Tracy wants to be in ten years but before long, it becomes pretty clear that Brooke is the exact opposite of what she wants to become. Brooke is everywhere and nowhere, everything and nothing, all at once. She is what happens to people when they keep all of their options open in hopes of being able to conquer everything the world has to offer. She is a restauranteur without a restaurant, an interior decorator who has only ever decorated the waiting room of a nail salon, a writer who doesn’t write. Let alone being the master of nothing, she isn’t even really a jack of all trades. Tracy sees right through her too. Sometimes the way she looks at her is so cold it is actually disturbing. It is as if Tracy feels that she has everything figured out because Brooke does not and that she can succeed without question if she simply avoids all of the mistakes Brooke has made up to this point. Brooke becomes a “how to” manual of sorts on what not to do in life and much less a person trying to find her way.
Despite all of this inner conflict, MISTRESS AMERICA is still a film about sisterhood and is actually quite funny. The script, as written by Baumbach and Gerwig, is peppered with acerbic wit and punctuated by many a laugh out loud moment. The zaniness culminates in an oddly entertaining climax that plays very much like a screwball play, much in the vein of the earlier works of one of Baumbach’s influences, Woody Allen. In fact, Baumbach is doing more for New York filmmaking than Allen has in recent years, and he is doing so with a much less heavy hand too. In the end, if this is the kind of magic one makes with a mistress, who needs a marriage?