Many of you may know Noah Baumbach for his previous films like Frances Ha and The Squid and The Whale. Over the past couple of years, he’s been making these fantastic comedies with stunning screenplays packed with riveting, gorgeous banter between these real yet humorous characters. Mistress America is no exception as it proves to possibly be Baumbach’s funniest film to date, a short, entertaining movie with endlessly rich jokes, memorable characters and an amazing performance from Greta Gerwig.
Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a lonely college student failing to get into a relationship and failing to get into an exclusive club at her school for authors. When she finds out that her mom is getting married again, she starts to meet up with Brook (Greta Gerwig), her new stepsister. They start to hang out together in New York and Brook’s eccentric life inspires Tracy in her writings. When Brook starts to lose investors for a restaurant she’s creating, they go visit her rich ex to receive some funding.
The reason this film is fantastic is so simple in comparison to recent great movies. This is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen all year. Go figure that the best comedies this year are the independent ones that no one will see. Case and point, go see What We Do in The Shadows, it’s as incredible and hysterical as you’ve heard it to be. That other film aside, the pleasures of Mistress America are in Baumbach and Gerwig’s screenplay. The movie is a treasure chest of hilarious lines, biting satire and this high energy that keeps the film watchable from start to finish. The 2nd half of the movie takes place in this house and it’s never boring because he fills it with all of these wonderful, strange people playing off of each other in the setting.
There’s Brooke’s rich, humorously arrogant ex-boyfriend (Michael Chernus). There’s the socially awkward, likable guy (Matthew Shear) that Tracy is trying to get with. Then you have his ridiculously paranoid girlfriend(Jasmine Cephas Jones). And then there’s this quiet, pregnant accountant (Cindy Cheung) who’s waiting at their house to get picked up by her husband after book club. And despite this craziness, I still haven’t even gotten to all of the characters. What’s most impressive is that there isn’t a weaker one in the lot of them. They are given these great scenes that are all really funny to watch and you’re just watching all of them bounce back and force between each other in this confined space for an hour and 30 minutes. Yet despite its small story, it still manages to be one of the shortest film experiences I’ve watched in months.
In comparison to Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, the previous film I reviewed for SIFF. I appreciated how well this movie was able to blend comedy and drama. Even though the movie tends to be mostly played for laughs, there are a few scenes here and there where the film attempts to be a little serious like in one where Brooke and Tracy get into a fight when Brooke finds out that Tracy has been writing these stories about her. What this movie gets right that the previously mentioned film didn’t is that serious scenes in a comedy don’t have to bring the movie to a dead halt or feel weirdly handled. Even though these scenes are dealing with actual problems, it doesn’t feel out of place and these scenes still manage to get in a lot of sharp and laugh out loud lines regardless. There isn’t that strange feeling that you’ve some stepped into a vastly darker and unneeded film. For example, the previously mentioned fight still contains of the best moments in the movie with all the people in the room criticizing her story for a variety of wacky and peculiar reasons.
All of the performances here are excellent and Baumbach picked perfect actors to breathe life into his characters. I’ve never seen lead actress Lola Kirke in anything before this but she does a great job playing the more realistic, died down character to the wilder figures we see throughout. And again, Baumbach still makes her a really funny character despite that and Kirke does a good job presenting her. In terms of the supporting cast, I thought Michael Chernus was hilarious as the goofy, out of touch ex-boyfriend and Matthew Shear did an excellent job playing the other realistic person in the film other than Tracy.
Of course, this discussion would be incomplete without talking about the amazing performance by Greta Gerwig as Brooke. Thanks to the screenplay and Gerwig’s performance, Brooke is one of the funniest characters I’ve seen in years. She’s this over confident, aimless loser who manages to make the failures and the problems of her life seem extravagant and gorgeous. She has an endless knowledge of people and a somewhat charming ego that annoys a lot of people and allows her to keep her cool in tense situations. The reason that character works so perfectly is probably due to Gerwig’s part in writing the screenplay for this movie. All of the awkwardness and shyness of the character she played in Frances Ha are gone for this almost crazy, person who never seems tired or bored. Gerwig put so much energy and power into Brooke that I would totally be down for watching a show made off of her character, it cannot be understated how tremendously, hysterically good she was in the part.
Mistress America won’t end up being the most powerful or moving film of the year, but it sure as hell will end up being one of the funniest of the year. This movie has everything a great comedy should have, riveting dialogue, a great supporting cast and a brilliant lead performance. This is such a tight and perfectly fit together 90 minute experience that it never seemed to contain a dull moment. I frankly found this movie to be highly engaging and I cannot wait for you guys to check this one out when you get the chance.
Review by: Ryan M.
Release Date: 8/14/2015
Cast: Seth Barrish, Juliet Brett, Michael Chernus, Cindy Cheung, Shana Dowdeswell, Joel Marsh Garland, Greta Gerwig, Charlie Gillette, Rebecca Henderson and Jasmine Cephas Jones
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Screenplay by: Noah Baumbach