Mistress America (2015) – Noah Baumbach scores high once again

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If there’s one word to describe Noah Baumbach’s latest film above all others, it’s “vibrant”. The new film from Noah Baumbach sees him collaborating once again with his real-life partner, actress Greta Gerwig, who also starred in his Frances Ha, which I consider the best film of 2012. I was immensely charmed by that film (and Greta) that I was eagerly anticipating their next collaboration. As expected, Mistress America doesn’t disappoint but I wouldn’t call it Frances Ha either, even though at times it feels like Frances Ha-Part II. The character that Greta plays in it, Brooke, almost feels like an extension of Frances; only more hyperactive and not quite as lovable or relatable as Frances is. She is a seemingly successful New Yorker  juggling so many things at once. She is an interior designer, wants to own a restaurant chain, and also wants to be so many other things. And she is sometimes so self-absorbed and talks so fast and in a frenzied manner that I found it hard to keep track of each and every thing she is saying. The film’s primary theme is about finding your own place in a chaotic and conflicted world.

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But Brooke is not the main character here. It’s Tracy (played by Lola Kirke of Gone Girl fame), an 18-yr old introverted college girl who just got her short story by a literary society that she desperately wants to belong to. She is also struggling to fit in. She doesn’t feel any sort of connection with her college mates and tells her mom: “It’s like being at a party where you don’t know anybody.” She is someone who feels like a fish out of water most of the time. Now, this is the kind of character that I can very much relate to. On the same phone conversation, she is told by her mom that she has decided to get married to this man she met through an online dating site and insists that she call up his daughter (and soon-to-be her stepsister), who happens to be Brooke. Even though she feels awkward initially, Tracy decides to call her anyway and to her surprise, the two really hit it off despite their age difference. Brooke is a 30-yr old but they hang out with each other just like a couple of 20-yr olds. Tracy finds herself impressed by Brooke’s carefree attitude and sees her as the subject of her next short story.

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When Brooke’s boyfriend decides to not go through with his promise of not funding her restaurant dream, she decides to go look for funding elsewhere. The solution comes to her through a psychic whose “spirit” tells her to go after her ex-boyfriend who is now married to an arch-nemesis of hers who stole an idea for a fashion line once. It’s going to be awkward but she decides to do it anyway. She is accompanied by Tracy, a male college buddy of Tracy’s and his over-possessive and jealous girlfriend (and the reason why the last two are going together is because this guy has a car). What ensues after they end up at this ex-boyfriend’s residence is something that is straight out of a screwball comedy film. Multiple characters are either talking at the same time, getting interrupted by someone who has no business being there or some other funny shit happens. In the midst of all this chaos, Brooke discovers Tracy’s short story draft and things suddenly change between them. I am not going to spoil the rest except to say that this lead to a very heartwarming finale. Lola Kirke gets her first big break here and she is quite a revelation and at times, almost overshadows Greta.

 

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