Mistress America (2015)


Initial release: Aug 14, 2015 Wide
Director: Noah Baumbach
Box office: 2.7 million USD
Music composed by: Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips
Screenplay: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach
Running Time: 1hr  26m
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirk, Michael Chernus and Heather Lind.


"Sometimes I don't know if you're a Zen master or a sociopath."

"I'm just normal"

The whole film plays out like a barrel of teenage angst combined with the unfulfilled dreams and aspirations of the unguided midtwentysomethings encapsulating the lives of our two protagonists. When Tracy (Lola Kirk) moves to New York to begin her college eduction at Barnard she soon realises she doesn't fit in. She feels different. She feels lost. She feels as if she's at a party where she doesn't know anybody, and she's stuck there. She reaches out to her soon-to-be step-sister Brooke, played by Gerwig. While Tracy is struggling with loneliness and friendship Brooke embodies her antithesis. On the surface Brooke appears to be the very image we all hope to be. Popular, well-read, intelligent, diverse in interests and a care free attitude. Brooke has many dreams and a hand in many pots, she's a tutor, a fitness instructor and shes a singer but more importantly, she's going to be a restaurateur.  Brooke inspires Tracy, inspires her to live, to be herself, and she inspires her to write. With insightful awareness Tracy soon realises Brooke isn't everything she first thought but she stays along for the ride forming a formidable partnership along the way. 

"It's all pastiche like your whole generation" 

The movie itself manages to feel both self-deprecating and self aggrandising at the same time, in parts the dialogue sounds unaware and unassuming of its profundity and its enamour but in other parts it embodies the surface image it paints of The First Term English Student. The students who sip fine wine over candlelight while reciting poems of their angst. On the surface it feels fake and cliché but when you scratch away the surface you see a group of people who are trying to express the world around them, trying to express themselves only to find the greats have already put their sentiments into words, only more expressive and more emotive than they believe they could ever write themselves. It's easy to see it as clichéd and pretentious but at the heart is a story about self awareness and self expression. At the heart is a story we could all learn from.

Technically the movie is impressive. The soundtrack is superb. With just the right timing and emphasis the musical component really helps to eccentuate the emotional journey of the characters. There's something so familiar about the music but its not so noticeable or overt so as to distract. Visually Baumbach combines practicality and typically Hollywood shots with more art-house compositions adding to the sense of intellectual superiority that is weaved throughout the film. However, the characters seem to be self obsessed, ego maniacs who have no idea where they're going or what they're doing. They're full of dreams, of hopes and aspirations but dreams and aspirations that will probably never come to fruition. They throw their life experiences out into the world in the hope their stories have importance, they throw these comments into the world but most are left hanging, drifting, floating away into the ether of irrelevance. In parts this disjointed dialogue, this fractured conversation, feels awkward and uncomfortable but at the same time, it manages to feel endearing. Great Gerwig reunites with Noah Baumbach once again to tell the wallflower's story, to tell the story of teenage angst and the need for self actualisation but falls down with the one-dimensionality in it's lack of varied characters.

"Her beauty was that rare kind that made you want to look more like yourself and not like her,"

Mistress America is a somewhat confused endearing film that finds itself along the way. despite, or perhaps because of their flaws, the characters are a joy to spend time with, they make you want to be truer to yourself, and they make you feel more comfortable in expressing that self. The movie is charming and wonderfully funny, full of brilliant quotes and witty one liners. Mistress America is the hearty home-cooked meal using whatever ingredients you could find. It's certainly not mind-blowing and it's a little bizarre at times but it still creates the warm and fuzzy feeling of a Sunday roast. 

Have you seen Mistress America yet? What did you think?  

Rating: 5/7

Joyously written by Daniel Codd

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