FILM REVIEW: Mistress America

“Being a beacon of hope for lesser people can be a lonely business…”

Such is the mantra of ‘Mistress America,’ or at least something to that effect.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and when 18 year old college misfit Tracy (Lola Kirke) contacts her half sister-to-be and fellow NYC resident, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), she hopes that this will offer the solution to her on-going feelings of social alienation.

Little does she know that it will be a decision that is both the making and breaking of her.

Sounds like a cheesy, 80s coming of age movie, doesn’t it? Well, funny you should think that…

Mistress America displays that bubblegum innocence and slight naivety of many an 80s brat-pack film, yet it’s set in the present day. It is however jollied along by a choice 80s soundtrack of vintage OMD and Toto songs, amongst others.
It’s also a film whose direction is left in the capable hands of Noah Baumbach; it’s a given therefore that there will be quirky characterisation, with sharp and witty dialogue.

Tracy has aspirations of being a writer but her written attempts to impress the literary set of The Mobius Society at college frequently fall on deaf ears, or should that be blind eyes?

Either way, it’s not until the self-absorbed, yet strangely hypnotic presence of Brooke enters her life that Tracy finally seems capable of writing anything of worth.

Detailing a new friend’s foibles however, in a warts and all expose, no matter how well intentioned and how convincingly it’s dressed up to be merely a work of fiction, is a dangerous game and there’s a certain inevitability to the outcome.

Mistress America works well on a number of levels. It’s well cast and the script is, as already mentioned, sharp and witty – though its delivery borders on the unbelievable at times. Many a scene could comfortably have been lifted from a play and adapted for the big screen; not a criticism as such, more a stylistic approach and observation.

The influence of such luminaries as Woody Allen and The Cohen Brothers is in evidence throughout, but the overriding style is very definitely Baumbach’s and in this instance, Gerwig’s too.

It’s good and certainly can be notched up as another clever, intelligent comedy for Baumbach, but for me, he can have a habit of pushing the sense of quirkiness to the point of irritation, yet never quite crossing that boundary. Mistress America comes very close to crossing it. Whether that’s a deliberate thing or just the way I perceive it, it’s hard to say.

What I will say though is that I didn’t want Mistress America to end and that, to me, is usually a pretty conclusive sign that a film’s done something right.

I’m just not entirely sure that it does everything right.


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