Movie Review: Mistress America (2015)

Posted: May 29, 2016 in Comedy, Drama

mistress america

A young college English literature major named Tracy (Lola Kirke) feels alienated while attending Barnard University in New York City.  She doesn’t qualify for the literature club she wants to join, and her short story gets rejected for the Literary Society.  Tracy thinks she meets her kindred spirit in Tony, (Matthew Shear) a fellow literature student.  They read each other’s literature papers and he gives her notes on how to improve it, and after an ersatz date, Tracy’s mood is markedly brighter, until she sees Tony holding the hand of his new girlfriend Nicolette. (Jasmine Cephas Jones)

Tracy is back to feeling like an outcast, until she meets gregarious sister-in-law to be Brooke (Greta Gerwig) Brooke lives in an apartment zoned for a commercial building.  Brooke takes Tracy on a whirlwind tour of New York City. Brooke confides in Tracy that her ex-best friend, Mamie Claire (Heather Lind) stole Brooke’s boyfriend, Dylan (Michael (Chernus) and her fashionable top idea.  Now Brooke has a new idea, a restaurant, but her new boyfriend Stavros backs out of the investment and breaks up with Brooke.  Tracy advises Brooke to go to Connecticut, and get funding for the restaurant from Mamie Claire and Dylan. What Tracy doesn’t tell Brooke is that she’s taken all that Brooke has told her and turned Brooke into a fictional character in a short story.  Tracy, Brooke, Tony and Nicolette go to Greenwich in search of funding for her restaurant, do they get it? Does Brooke find out that she is a character in Tracy’s latest short story?

I like Mistress America, at its best, it is a fast-paced comedy, filled with rapid-fire dialogue, and insights about how it feels to be a millennial in a big city.  At times, it reminds me of a screwball comedy from the 1940’s, The Philadelphia Story.  There are so many people talking, and so many funny lines, that the viewer has to listen very carefully to catch all the funny lines.  That doesn’t mean that the movie is perfect. Co-Writers Gerwig  and Noah Baumbach try hard  to push Tracy and Tony together, and seem to forget that the strength of this movie is about the two lead two women bonding.  Also, while the two main characters are very well-developed, the secondary characters seem woefully underdeveloped.  The tone is also uneven, turning on a dime from comedy to melodrama, and the shift is so sudden, that it’s jarring.  The ending redeems the movie with its realism, and overall the writing is sharp.

The acting is good, from a largely unknown cast.  Gerwig is equally adept at comedy and drama, she plays Brooke as a stream of consciousness character, whose thoughts flow faster than her mouth can express them.  Brooke may also be a mean girl, which makes her character more complex yet harder to like. Lola Kirke also handles a complex character well.  She becomes Brooke’s biggest advocate, yet she is using Brooke without her knowledge.   Matthew Shear does his best with passive aggressive Tony, Heather Lind plays vindictive Mamie Claire as well as possible, as does Jasmine Cephas-Jones, as clingy, insecure, needy,  Nicolette. I also saw a Nicolette type character in Paper Towns, and it was no more appealing in that movie. These actors deserve better than one note characters to play.

Baumbach is also director here, the pacing is good, nothing visual to speak of, but he gets good performances from a young cast.

Mistress America: Missed greatness, but still good.


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