Looking Back at 2010s Films: Mistress America (2015)

5 Oct

Mistress_America

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…whether you like “Mistress America” or not depends on how much you like Greta Gerwig. Case in point: I like Greta Gerwig a lot, so I like “Mistress America” a lot.

A bit of an exaggeration, to be sure. But it’s the best I can come up with.

Gerwig also co-wrote the film with director Noah Baumbach–they also collaborated together on “Frances Ha,” one of my favorite films of the decade.

In “Mistress America,” Gerwig takes center stage as Brooke, a wacky, extremely confident, adventurous, highly lively, sometimes unbearable, overall lovely gal who lives for New York as well for simply living. And she knows so many awesome people, and she has all these amazingly incredible projects in the works, and she’ll even force herself onto the stage of a rock concert.

How did Richard Roeper describe her? “The initially entertaining but ultimately exhausting, self-appointed life of the party who won’t leave, even after the life has been drained of the party.”

Some critics weren’t so kind to “Mistress America” for Gerwig’s extreme portrayal of The Life Of Every Party. But for a brisk 84 minutes, I was happy to be in her company. I didn’t think she wore out her welcome. I could see how she would for others, but I can’t help it–there’s just something about Greta Gerwig that sticks with me and I can’t shake it off.

“Mistress America” is essentially a screwball comedy, with eccentric characters spewing a whole lot of dialogue with impeccable comic timing while on zany misadventures. I don’t know how long it took Baumbach to get these actors to find the right rhythms for each of these dialogue-driven scenes, but the effort is definitely appreciated.

Lola Kirke co-stars as Tracy, an 18-year-old college freshman who is very bright but not very sociable. Even when she finds a guy she can get along with because of their mutual aspirations in creative writing, the guy doesn’t stick around for too long before he finds a girlfriend of his own. Now bored in New York, Tracy reaches out to her stepsister-to-be: Brooke. Brooke, who’s 12 years older than Tracy, shows Tracy a great time while tagging her along for a wild night on the town.

Side-note: I relate just about every bit to the opening-credit sequence that shows Tracy trying to adjust to college life. Been there, lived that.

Tracy sees a unique character in Brooke (who is essentially a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who won’t reveal her true self), which inspires her to write a short story about her (giving her written counterpart the name “Meadow”). So, she decides to follow her around even longer, secretly taking notes as she goes along. Soon enough, the journey leads them (along with Tracy’s would-be boyfriend and his jealous girlfriend) to Connecticut where Brooke reunites with an old flame and an old foe.

This is the part where some critics who weren’t particularly invested in Brooke before would tune out. This is where the screwball-comedy aspect ventures into outrageous farce. More characters, more snappy dialogue, much going on, everything paying off…I had a blast! Critics like Roeper and James Berardinelli were turned off by it; I thought it made the film even more appealing.

Tracy sees right through Brooke, that she’s more talk than action and she should live more in the real world. When Brooke ultimately (and inevitably) finds out that Tracy’s been taking notes and writing stories about her, she explodes because it’s not her at all. Tracy counters back with an excellent point: that Brooke hardly ever shows herself for who she truly is. (She even uses her dead mother as an excuse for not confronting reality with other people.) Even at 18, Tracy is the smartest person in the film, even if she does need a lesson in social behavior. (Don’t we all, though.)

But as good as Lola Kirke is as Tracy, it’s Greta Gerwig as Brooke that will make or break “Mistress America” for people. She didn’t break it for me. I like her a lot, so I like the movie a lot.

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