Friday, August 14, 2015

Movie with Abe: Mistress America

Mistress America
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Released August 14, 2015

Director Noah Baumbach and actress Greta Gerwig have collaborated on two films over the past few years, with Baumbach directing, Gerwig starring, and both penning the original screenplay. “Greenberg” starred Ben Stiller and cast Gerwig as his love interest, and then Gerwig took center stage in “Frances Ha” as a free spirit living in New York. Now they’ve found a definitive rhythm, with Gerwig giving herself full reign to dramatically utter her lines as an impossibly deluded budding entrepreneur living in her own world who takes her stepsister-to-be for a wild ride as they begin to develop a relationship.

Lola Kirke, who stars on Netflix’s “Mozart in the Jungle,” is Tracy, the central figure of the “Mistress America” at its start, a friendly college freshman whose initial experience is far from what she dreamed it would be. Frustrated and lonely, she calls Brooke (Gerwig), whose father her mother plans to marry, and gets to experience the crazy life of the fast-talking young woman who seeks to open a restaurant. Brooke is prone to delivering lengthy speeches that indicate how out of touch with reality she is and how little that bothers her or disrupts any of her plans. Tracy uses Brooke as the main character in her submission for her college’s literary magazine, feeding off of her eccentric energy and living vicariously through her.

The dialogue is “Mistress America” is the film’s most prominent asset, an instant confirmation that this is indeed a Baumbach work. His second film, the Oscar-nominated “The Squid and the Whale,” firmly identified the kind of writing that Baumbach does, and with Gerwig, here they craft characters who are always at the ready to expound on a topic that most people know little about and speak with confident authority even if everything they are saying has no bearing or backing to it. Such people don’t likely exist in the real world, but this constructed universe in which everyone is a budding intellectual just waiting to be called on to preach a specific sort of elitism does have its own lukewarm appeal.

There is no doubt that Kirke, who is spunky and likeable but just reserved enough, is the right person to play Tracy, and Gerwig was born to play Brooke, a role she said she didn’t write for herself but ended up being convinced by Baumbach to take. Certain members of the supporting cast, particularly Michael Chernus and Heather Lind as friends from Brooke’s past, are equally adept at delivering the lines written for them and portraying these inflated personalities. As a perfectly literal story, “Mistress America” might have been terrific. As it presents in a less realistic and digestible manner, it is furtively entertaining and engaging but equally frustrating and over-the-top at times.


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