Review: Mistress America

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Mistress America, Noah Baumbach’s second follow-up to hit indie flick ‘Frances Ha’ starts promising – but fails to live up to the cult status of its predecessor, says Peter Dunne.


Greta Gerwig’s growing dominance of the independent comedy scene continues apace with Mistress America, her third collaboration with co-screenwriter, director and real life partner, Noah Baumbach. If their first film together Greenberg was the uphill pedal, and the dazzling Frances Ha the summit, this is the freewheel downhill – beginning on a high but plummeting as it goes.

Tracy, (Lola Kirke) a college freshman even fresher to New York, is struggling to fit in. Disillusioned by academic life and rejected by a teeth grindingly pretentious campus literary society, this almost out of water fish is saved from floundering by her soon to be step-sister, the seemingly ultra hip Brooke (Gerwig). Tagging along with Brooke’s adventures amongst the in crowds, Tracy’s eyes are opened to a cool world of trendy nightclubs, getting backstage with the band and the transformative effects of spin classes – all set to a fantastic electronic soundtrack. Tracy’s hero worship soon begins to sour, however, as those newly opened eyes can’t help but notice that what she originally took as Brooke’s free spirit is actually just aimlessness, culminating in the transformation of a short story which Tracy began as a tribute to her new friend becoming a dig against all Brooke stands for.

Baumbach’s previous series of dark-as-a-black-hole comedies populated by deliberately unlikeable characters seemed to transform, post-Greta, into warmer, sometimes charming affairs with real heart and his latest is no different. The first half zips along, peppered with genuine laugh out loud moments, aided in no small part by Gerwig’s insanely punctual comic timing. Brooke is a fantastic creation, so hilariously blind to reality, she decides on the advice of a second rate medium to visit the home of her arch-nemesis, Mimi Claire (Heather Lind) with Tracy and her college friends in tow, to demand money so she can open a hipster restaurant called “Mom’s”.

And unfortunately, it’s at this point where, just like Tracy, the audience slowly begin to see the cracks. Suddenly housebound, the whole film becomes strangely theatrical. Annoyingly quirky characters are introduced, seemingly just to spout one liners and run up and down staircases, while the dialogue is held in such high regard that none of these people interrupt each other – the actors are taking turns to speak rather than conversing. What was before a humorous look at people with an inability to listen, becomes a film about group of people making statements for only themselves to hear. Givent that, it could have been entertaining if they all didn’t sound so alike – every line of dialogue could be gathered together and spoken by Gerwig’s character and nobody would notice the difference.

Thankfully the film finally escapes from that accursed house, but despite the shift back to the real world, the film never quite regains momentum. There’s a lot to be admired about Mistress America, mostly Gerwig’s magnetically comic performance, but just like Tracy’s short story, the problematic script is so much in love with the sound of it’s own voice it fails to realise that sometimes things read better on paper rather than being spoken aloud.


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