Review: Mistress America

By Christian DiMartino

A few things could be said about writer/director Noah Baumbach. One is that he has a great ear for dialogue. Another is that he is obsessed with flawed human beings. The last one that comes to mind is that it seems like he takes great inspiration from the work of Woody Allen. All of these elements come wonderfully into play with his latest film, Mistress America.

Here I was reminded of a few Allen films. The heroines at the heart of Mistress America just feel  like people Allen would concoct, but yet they also feel purely Baumbach. It’s an odd touch, but it works. The screenplay by Baumbach and his muse (and star) Greta Gerwig, is sharply written and often very funny. Though the film isn’t one of his best.

Tracy (Lola Kirke, who played one of the trailer park robbers in last year’s Gone Girl) is a soft-spoken college student who doesn’t really know what she wants out of life. But her life is spun upside down (and, in its own way, uplifted) when she meets her step-sister-to-be, Brooke (Gerwig), a neurotic New York socialite narcissist with a dream of opening up a restaurant called Mom’s. Tracy finds Brooke strangely fascinating.

Brooke, upon seeing a psychic (another Allen-esque item), finds a solution to get her restaurant off the ground: find her old best friend (who is now married to Brooke’s former boyfriend) and guilt them into giving her the funding for the restaurant. Then like that, Brooke, Tracy, and Tracy’s friends are off to Connecticut, and so on.

Kirke is lovely. Gerwig, usually lovely, is a scene-stealer. She is usually the soft-spoken one, but this time, she gets a juicier role than we’ve come to expect. The supporting players don’t really get much to do.

The dialogue is zippy and occasionally very funny. I was thoroughly entertained by Mistress America, but yet to me it fell short of some of Baumbach’s best work, such as The Squid and the WhaleGreenberg, or Frances Ha.

As much as I enjoyed watching these characters, I could never fully invest in them, particularly the side ones. It doesn’t seem to give them a lot to do, and they just don’t quite fit with the rest of the movie.

But nonetheless, Mistress America is a comedy with a bite. It gives you a slap of reality that most comedies are afraid to provide. I find that something to admire.

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