Mistress America

Posted by Joel Copling on August 28, 2015

Director Noah Baumbach is apparently one for populating his movies with slightly neurotic characters, and "Mistress America" is no different. In fact, it's filled in every scene with two or three neurotic characters waxing Millennial about the problems that plague them, before becoming a chamber comedy about the neuroses of every major or secondary character to whom we've been introduced. It's a chaotic mix made more palatable through Baumbach's staging, and at least the business of the dialogue is balanced well by the setting (a white, spotlessly clean house). It also helps that these characters are largely, well, not unlikable.

That does make them easy to relate to, though, such as our heroine Tracy (Lola Kirke in a performance that should get her more roles very quickly), an 18-year-old, aspiring writer who wants to be a part of the most exclusive writing club at her university. She meets Brooke (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach), a whirlwind of nervous energy and four-letter words, whose dad is about to marry Tracy's mom. Brooke is an interior designer with big dreams of opening a restaurant, despite only a domestic, casual background in cooking. She also has deep resentment for her former best friend Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind), who, according to Brooke, stole her ex-boyfriend Dylan (Michael Chernus), her idea for a fun T-shirt, and her cats.

Almost the entirety of the second half is spent in Dylan and Mamie-Claire's house while Brooke pitches the restaurant idea (poorly and without much conviction) to the former for an investment of his apparent boatload of money. It's packed to the gills with on-the-nose dialogue and blunt interactions. Some of this feels extraneous (such as the inclusion of Tony, a classmate of Tracy's played by Matthew Shear for whom she could be a romantic foible, and Nicolette, Tony's current girlfriend played by Jasmine Cephas Jones as someone with only a single characteristic of "jealous," as well as various tertiary characters who enter and exit at the whims of the screenplay); by and large, "Mistress America" works because the performances are so convincing, especially the way Brooke's attitude toward life seems to rub off on Tracy and the manner in which Brooke and Dylan reach a sort of closure. The whole thing is a way of airing out insecurities, but it's smart enough not to tidy up after itself in a manufactured way.

Film Information

Lola Kirke (Tracy), Greta Gerwig (Brooke), Matthew Shear (Tony), Heather Lind (Mamie-Claire), Michael Chernus (Dylan), Jasmine Cephas Jones (Nicolette).

Directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig.

Rated R (language including sexual references).

84 minutes.

Released in select cities on August 14, 2015.