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Mistress America

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I’m so glad writer/director Noah Baumbach only had a few missteps. There was that awful movie Greenberg (Ben Stiller) and the disappointing Margot at the Wedding (Nicole Kidman/Jack Black).

Baumbach has been dating Greenberg star Greta Gerwig and this is the second movie he’s written with her (Frances Ha previously). It’s now Baumbach’s third New York picture, so…step aside, Woody Allen.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is in New York City, having a tough time fitting in at college. One of her disappointments is not making it into a prestigious literary society. Her friend Tony (Mattew Shear) is a pretentious writer, but she has feelings for him anyway. We guess that’s merely out of lonliness. His girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas-Jones) is the jealous type, so that triangle goes down paths you’d expect, but it’s funny.

Tracy is lamenting all this to her mom (Kathryn Erbe). She suggests that she get together with her future stepsister Brooke (Greta Gerwig). Brooke is the life of the party, and just hanging out with her improves everything in Tracy’s life.

The first half of the movie is an interesting character study. The second have becomes a wacky farce that might exhaust some. It’s like a comedy from the ‘40s, with a dash of pathos, and a touch of John Hughes. The lines are quick and Gerwig’s timing is spot-on.

The tonal switch worked for me, because the lines are all solid. It’s also refreshing that Tracy can see that Brooke is a bit of a nut.

We’ve all met this person. They start out fun, but we soon see their true colors. I was at a party in Rancho Santa Fe and met a 55-year-old woman who was this Brooke character, always reliving her glory days from high school. Another time, it was an artist with a huge loft in North Park. He threw the best parties, and was always at the happening restaurant, concert, or event. After a few weeks, you were exhausted and annoyed listening to him talk.

Yet even if you can’t relate, you’ll enjoy watching a young, impressionable girl come to her own realizations about her life and those she’s surrounded by.

In the second half of the movie, we get an interesting road trip to Brooke’s ex-fiance Dylan (Michael Chernus). Unlike the recent Paper Towns, interesting and funny things happen during all of those scenarios here. We hear Brooke’s version of events (which include her friend stealing a T-shirt idea she had, as well as her boyfriend and cat).

They could’ve toned down the amount of wackiness that happens when this group arrives at this ex-boyfriends mansion. It’s also really hard to buy the fact that a member of a book club (Cindy Cheung) would stick around for all the shenanigans as well.

This is the type of movie that has scenes you may have seen before, but they’re written so much better, they’re welcome. A perfect example is when Brooke and Tracy are drinking in a bar, and they’re approached by a former classmate (Rebecca Henderson). What happens during that confrontation was excellent on some many levels.

Again, the movie does have a few scenes that don’t work. One of those being an angry neighbor that somehow ends up in the house and adding his two cents into Brooke’s latest idea – an art gallery/restaurant/hair salon. She’s hoping the ex-boyfriend will lend her money for that project.

The soundtrack helps encapsulate the perfect ‘80s vibe. We hear McCartney sing “No More Lonely Nights,” as well as Toto, Hot Chocolate, Suicide, and Ace of Base.

This might not be the most cohesive film, but so what. Watching a wacky, egocentric character – played brilliantly by Gerwig – make this worth your while.

It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.

1 Comment

  • L. Nevarez

    We watched this film at the San Diego Film Festival screening last week. The film was well received by the audience. Great writing, great review Josh.

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