As a high-level writer and director, Noah Baumbach’s distinctive style often results in substantive films which are just as smart as they are charming. While most of his movies are simply terrific, some are amazing – like ‘The Squid and the Whale’.
Only occasionally have I ever felt that he missed the mark entirely, as in ‘While We’re Young’. But that’s irrelevant, because fortunately, the accolades & praise have returned with his latest release: “Mistress America”. For this film, Mr. Baumbach has wisely chosen to pair-up, once again, with his life partner – Greta Gerwig. Both share in the writing duties of the screenplay, then he gives her direction as one of the films main characters. I’ve been looking forward to a follow up collaboration, since the success of their 2012 movie, ‘Francis Ha’, which was a joy to watch…and dare I say – magical!
Baumbach deserves credit for aligning himself with great collaborators. He’s teamed up with Wes Anderson on a few projects and more recently seems to have found a terrific working relationship with Gerwig.
“Mistress America” is the story of Tracy (Lola Kirke), who is in her freshman year at Barnard University. Tracy is finding it difficult to meet new friends in The Big Apple, so her mother suggests she call her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke, played by Greta Gerwig.
Immediately, Brooke invites Tracy to meet up with her, and together they have the time of their lives enjoying the big city. Tracy quickly begins to admire Brooke’s multi-faceted, multi-talented, and well connected ways by which she’s able to move about, and fit in with, the New York social scene at all socio-economic levels. For Tracy – Brooke seems to have mastered the art of living life to the fullest.
While the relationship deepens and Tracy remains fascinated by Brooke’s lifestyle, it begins to appear that Brooke regards Tracy’s life decisions and direction are a much more appropriate way in which to become a true success in matters of importance. A real life, in the real world.
Things begin to change between the two friends when Brooke’s dream of opening a restaurant begins to collapse and crash before her eyes. In addition, Brooke reads a story written by Tracy, which seems to mock Brooke’s life and life choices. The loneliness experienced after the falling-out actually becomes the path which leads them to find their way back to one another, so that they might become the friends they want to be.
In a good way, the dialogue in this film feels as if it’s being delivered from both a play or a stage reading. While the scene locations may change, the way in which the dialogue is presented doesn’t. Often characters talk over one another, and at times it seems they are trying to outwit each other. And that’s just part of what makes “Mistress America” work in so many ways.
With Gerwig staring and co-writing the screenplay with Baumbach it helps give Gerwig another vehicle to show that she is becoming the new indie-film Queen.
And while it’s difficult to compare this film to something already in existence, it’s easy recommending it to anyone who loves a smart comedy. With great performances by Gerwig and Kirke, I really enjoyed this movie, and could go on and on about all that I liked. But rather than that, let me simply suggest that you skip the multi-plex for this one, and head to your local indie theater, because that’s where you’ll fall in love with both Gerwig and this film – it’s Baumbach at his best.