Mistress America

Sep 2, 2015

An enjoyable romcom from the exciting couple of Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach.

Mistress America

Grade: A-

Director: Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha)

Screenplay: Baumbach (While We’re Young), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)

Cast: Greta Gerwig (Lola Versus), Lola Kirke (Gone Girl)

Rating: R

Runtime: 84 min.

by John DeSando

Tracy (Lola Kirke) in Mistress America might be Noah Baumbach’s most normal heroine (See his Frances Ha for eccentric) while she navigates first semester Barnard as a writing major: What to write for originality, what to take from those you know (mainly their personas), how to preserve intellectual property, how to weather rejection, both in your work and in your love. About Barnard she says:  “It’s like being at a party where you don’t know anybody, all the time.”

Baumbach and co-writer Gerwig love the searching young woman evidenced in Tracy’s love of her future stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig),  who has dreams that don’t always come true, but like Frances Ha, she keeps plugging along trying to make a name and find a love. Tracy has a ways to go before she can be like the outgoing Brooke.

Although some of the setups are preposterous such as climbing a fire escape to get into your own loft, they are usually hiding a greater meaning such as locking out your old self to let a new one in. Tracy expresses the tortuous search for identity, even in others, when she says to Brooke,“I'm so impressed by you and so worried for you at the same time.”

For comedy at a high level pay attention to the set piece in Dylan’s (Michael Chernus) modern LA home. The banter is screwball, biting and bright:  “I don't give a sh--, because I am not a friend of Tennessee Williams.” (Brooke) And: “I just learned what case-sensitive meant, like seriously, yesterday.” (Dylan) Here’s where Brooke displays her multifaceted, funny, and vulnerable self, a tour de force performance for Gerwig.

Just as creating involves intrigue and danger (Brooke’s tee shirt idea is stolen by her once love’s new wife, Mamie Clare, played by Heather Lind), and Tracy steals Brooke’s soul for her short story, so too does fostering and losing love, as Tracy tries. Although Tracy is clueless about buying pasta, she still can write a short story about Brooke that wins a place in the snooty school literary magazine.  Nothing is easy, and anything is possible.

The answers the young un’s find are couched in terms of reality, whereby once you find out whom and how to trust, you then accept the possible as an adjunct of the real. At this time of their lives, it’s all good. As Brooke says, “I'll probably end up doing something depressing, but young.”

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at