The 400-Word Review: Mistress America
By Sean Collier
October 2, 2015
Mistress America is a movie that makes some fine points, though plenty of other works have been saying the same thing as of late. It’s filled with characters who are likable, though not exactly intriguing. It does some subtle things with dialogue that are interesting, but not quite interesting enough to make them less than irritating.
So it’s okay.
Oddly, director Noah Baumbach’s previous 2015 commentary on the millennial generation, While We’re Young, was definitely a bit better (despite an off-the-rails ending). Here, working from a script co-written with the film’s star, Greta Gerwig, there’s a great deal of subtlety at work, at the expense of lasting impact.
Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a blank slate of a college freshman, buoyed by a desire to write but socially awkward and emotionally aimless. At her newly re-engaged mother’s urging, Tracy reaches out to 30-year-old Manhattanite Brooke (Gerwig), her future stepsister, for some support.
Brooke is the most ostentatious variety of free spirit, a bohemian who can’t stop talking about how damn unique she is. To the grown-ups watching, she’s a reality-denying trainwreck; to impressionable Tracy, she’s the coolest person who’s ever existed. Mistress America’s narrative tension, which is limited, is mostly focused on whether Tracy will notice that the empress has no clothes. Or prospects, for that matter. As the two women’s lives intermingle, the perceived romance of Brooke’s life is deconstructed, both textually and critically. (Hmm. The movie must’ve landed with me on some level if I can write a sentence that pretentious.)
Baumbach and Gerwig’s script seems determined to talk about the infiltration of social media vernacular and convention into actual, real-world conversation. Brooke and Tracy speak in tweetable soundbites, spew opinions into the ether without checking to see where they land and constantly self-analyze (when such analysis is flattering, anyway). It’s an interesting experiment, though the stilted nature of such dialogue grows old; it would’ve been nice if the duo could’ve found a way to incorporate this commentary while still creating believable conversations.
Gerwig, a previous collaborator with Baumbach on the far-better Frances Ha, is captivating, but outshone by Kirke. The younger actress, sister to “Girls” star Jemima Kirke, possesses a Warholian mystery without the hang-ups; she’s likable, relatable and charming, and audiences will likely root for her throughout Mistress America, even when they shouldn’t. She’s a future star, and Mistress America is worth seeing for her performance alone.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark