Mistress America – Review

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There’s a very specific demographic that feels somewhat ignored in cinema. The abundance of coming-of-age tales and high school set teen dramas ensure that anybody before the age of 25 is well represented, while those entering middle age, dealing with parenthood and responsibility, also have their fair share of screen time. But what about all of those in-between? Those who are not young enough to cling onto their youth and the blissful insouciance that comes with that – and yet they aren’t quite old enough yet to settle down. However it’s an area that Noah Baumbach triumphantly chronicled in Frances Ha – and his latest picture Mistress America offers yet another wry, nuanced comment on those specific, disorientating years.

Greta Gerwig follows on from her role in Frances Ha in playing the epitome of somebody who is neither here nor there. She plays Brooke, a self-absorbed, creatively inclined individual who can be found either at her trendy New York apartment, or in the surrounding area, using her contagious charm and charisma to convince people to give her whatever she wants. One of which is Tracy (Lola Kirke), a student whose mother is soon to wed Brooke’s father – and the pair grow increasingly close, with a level of admiration on the latter’s part, as she becomes enamoured by her friend and soon-to-be-sister. She decides to dedicate much of her time to helping Brooke’s latest venture – to secure financial backing to help get her restaurant off the ground, which culminates in a trip to Brooke’s ex to persuade him for some assistance.

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The two lead performances are nothing short of exceptional, and while Gerwig is mightily annoying in this feature, that’s actually of great commendation to the actress, because Brooke is supposed to be – proving just how well she has embodied this role. What helps is having such an accomplished screenplay to work with – one that she co-wrote with Baumbach – as there’s such a rhythm and flow to the dialogue, with one lengthy sequence in particular – where all of the prominent characters are in one house, at the same time – where this becomes akin to a stage play, like a farce, where the choreography amongst the collective becomes essential, with definite shades of Mike Leigh and Alan Ayckbourn prevalent.

There’s just a real charm to this feature, as the striking cinematography and indelible soundtrack alone make for a film with such atmosphere – albeit contrived in parts. This is the second Baumbach feature to illuminate the silver screen in recent months following While We’re Young – and given the success rate thus far, a third film this year wouldn’t go amiss, either.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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