Mistress America

Year: 2015
Production Co: RT Features
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Noah Baumbach
Producer: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig
Cast: Greta Geriwg, Lola Kirke

Like spiritual godfather Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach has entered a prolific period with his second film of 2015 after While We're Young.

Written by and starring another of Allen's successors – Greta Gerwig – Mistress America tells the story of new college student Tracy (Lola Kirke), who arrives in New York knowing nothing and nobody and feels out of sorts as well as out of place. If for no other reason than loneliness, she calls the daughter of the man her mother's marrying, Brooke (Gerwig) – about to become her stepsister as a result.

Brooke comes into Tracy's life like a tornado and is everything the younger girl thinks she wants to be – socially connected, full of exuberance, passionate and loving life.

But the more Tracy comes to know Brooke, the more she realises how anchorless and lost the older woman is, papering over the cracks in her psyche with false bravado. In reality she's all talk, will never finish anything and is barely coasting through life intact.

Baumbach was inspired by the classic Hollywood screwball comedies of the 30s, and nowhere is his inspiration more obvious than when Tracy and Brooke travel to a well-to-do upstate area to try and borrow money from Brooke's former boyfriend and his flinty wife to bankroll Brooke's cockamamie restaurant venture.

With a leftover member of the wife's book club on the sidelines, the boy Tracy thought would end up her boyfriend (who's driven everyone there), his jealous girlfriend, Brooke, Tracy and the bitter married couple all zigging and zagging into the frame to deliver throwaway gags, Mistress America looks and feels like a stage play.

That scene is the most obtuse example of such a creative approach, and it really doesn't work on screen. Maybe it's the baggage of being a moviegoer in the 21st century, but such choreographed comedy just doesn't ring true, and the whole thing feels like it would have been better served up on a stage rather than a movie screen.

There's some deeper truth here about the types of people you might meet (or be) in your life, and Gerwig is great in the role of fractured queen of her own world, but everything ends up a bit lost in the whirlwind aesthetic approach.

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