September 10, 2015
Mistress America (**) R
Director Noah Baumbach’s second film in less than six months, Mistress America, is his second writing collaboration with his muse and frequent lead actress, Greta Gerwig. It’s worth making mention that fact because the films that he’s penned with Gerwig have, for me, proved to be two of the director’s weakest efforts. I’m sure there are those who would be more than willing to argue that point with me and that’s fine.
Still, the biggest problem for me is the inarguably vapid and shallow nature of the female roles that Gerwig has written for herself in both this and her previous Baumbach collaboration, Frances Ha. The characters are so similar that the two films could almost be viewed as companion pieces. These are women who can’t seem to commit to any idea or purpose and seem to be about deep as a puddle of water. Sure, they may be able to toss off a clever line or throw out an interesting idea every now and then but when you really get down to it there’s not much going on below the surface. Perhaps Baumbach is so enamored of his lead actress and off screen partner and that’s understandable but I think he’s better off leaving Gerwig out of the scripting phase of his pictures as evidenced by his much superior, Gerwig-free, effort from earlier in the year, While We’re Young.
Mistress America has been described in the press as a ‘screwball comedy.’
Gerwig & Kirke in Mistress America
Rest assured that this film has very little in common with what I consider to be ideal screwball comedies, Bringing Up Baby and What’s Up Doc being two notable examples that Baumbach and Gerwig should have spent more time with.
Gerwig’s character is Brooke Cardenas but before we meet her some twenty minutes into the picture we are first introduced to Tracy (Lola Kirke). I suppose that Tracy is the female lead but once Brooke shows up she manages to overpower everyone else when she’s onscreen. Tracy is a floundering freshman in college who’s urged by her soon to be wed mother to connect with her future stepsister, who happens to be Brooke. Tracy gets together with Brooke and gets sucked up into the hurricane of her unfocused life as Brooke attempts to get funding for a restaurant that she believes will be her salvation. Meanwhile, Tracy is attempting to find her artistic voice and decides to use Brooke as fodder for her latest short story.
The final act takes a sudden serious turn when Brooke’s feelings of betrayal become the centerpiece of the story. This might have worked if Brooke had garnered any sympathy from the viewer earlier in the film. For me, it felt like just desserts.
Should Gerwig and Baumbach attempt to write another film together I’m hoping that they’ll give us someone we actually can care about. For now, however, we have Mistress America. Unfortunately it’s a film that doesn’t come anywhere near accomplishing that feat.
Mistress America is playing in Charlotte.
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