Saturday, September 12, 2015
Directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Mistress America is the story of a young college student who moves to New York City where she would meet her future step-sister who takes her on an adventure around the city. The film is an exploration into a young woman coping with trying to fit in as she would find herself living through her future stepsister whom she would get close to. Starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung, and Kathryn Erbe. Mistress America is a charming and witty film from Noah Baumbach.
The film plays into a college student who goes to Columbia to become a writer as she has trouble fitting in until she decides to meet a woman in her late-20s who is about to become her step-sister where the two hang as the student finds inspiration for her own writing. It’s a film where this young woman would live through the whirlwind life of an older woman who dreams of opening her own restaurant and do other things as she would also try to help her. Especially as the two are in need to do something in their lives as they cope with love affairs and ambition. It’s a film that plays into the world of growing up as it is largely told from the perspective of Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke) who is a freshman trying to make it as a writer but awkward attempts to socialize and such would get him some disdain from fellow students and such. It’s until she meets Brooke (Greta Gerwig) where Tracy’s life changes.
The film’s screenplay by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach explores these two women who are both in a state of transition as Tracy is trying to find herself as a person and as a writer while Brooke is trying to raise money to open a restaurant as she does all sorts of things. Even as Tracy is desperate to join the college’s school magazine as her first attempts were poor but she would find a muse in Brooke and later help Brooke with all of these situations as it would include confronting an old nemesis who Brooke claims had taken some of her ideas. The film would feature some witty dialogue that plays into Brooke’s persona as she is this person that likes to think and talk fast while being very excited yet is also flawed as she can’t cope with aspects of reality or negativity. Most notably in the film’s third act where she and Tracy go to Connecticut to meet with an old friend where a lot of drama happens.
Baumbach’s direction is quite simple as a lot of it is shot in New York City where it is set during the autumn where Tracy is experiencing her first semester. Much of it showcases a sense of awkwardness in its approach to humor as it relates to Tracy’s attempt to socialize where she has a roommate who doesn’t like her and is seen as a weirdo by some. With his simple approach to close-ups and medium shots, Baumbach maintains something that is intimate as well as something that feels loose which plays into Brooke’s lively personality. The city itself is a character as much of it is presented in very low colors to play into the season as opposed to the scenes set in Connecticut where it’s kind of surreal and more colorful. It plays into the kind of world that Brooke and Tracy aren’t exactly familiar with as they’re both facing a much harsher reality where it does become comical but with a sense of cynicism into how these two young women conduct themselves with their lives and desires in life. Overall, Baumbach creates a compelling yet funny film about two young women coping with reality and growing up in New York City.
Cinematographer Sam Levy does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key colors and lighting for scenes at night to play into the feeling of New York City in the autumn without being too vibrant or colorful with the exception of the scene set in Connecticut. Editor Jennifer Lame does fantastic work with the editing with its inspired usage of jump-cuts and other montage-cutting style that plays into the frenetic energy of New York City and college life. Production designer Sam Lisenco, with set decorator Katie Hickman and Ashley Fenton, does amazing work with the look of the apartment loft that Brooke lives in as well the empty place for her restaurant and the home of her old friends in Connecticut.
Costume designer Sarah Mae Burton does nice work with the costumes from the beret that Tracy wears to the more stylish clothes that Brooke wears. Sound editor Paul Hsu does terrific work with the sound as it‘s low-key where it captures moments that happen on location as well as a few moments that are very comical. The film’s music by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips is brilliant for its dream-like score that is a mixture of lush electronic pieces with jangly guitars to play into something that is more akin to college music of the 1980s while music supervisor George Drakoulias would provide a soundtrack that is more diverse that features music from Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Paul McCartney, Ace of Base, Toto, Hot Chocolate, Suicide, and Frederic Chopin.
The casting by Douglas Aibel is great as it features appearances from Dean Wareham as a neighbor of Brooke’s old friends in Connecticut, Mickey Sumner as a woman who looks like Brooke, Cindy Cheung as pregnant guest of Brooke’s old friend Mamie-Claire who Tracy’s friends befriend, Michael Chernus as Brooke’s former boyfriend Dylan who would give her some advice about her career, Heather Lind as Dylan’s wife and Brooke’s old friend Mamie-Claire who is a representation of who Brooke doesn’t want to be, and Kathryn Erbe as Tracy’s mother who would suggest for Tracy to meet Brooke. Jasmine Cephas Jones is terrific as a classmate of Tracy who is very suspicious that her boyfriend Tony is falling for Tracy. Matthew Shear is superb as Tony as a writing classmate of Tracy that is impressed with her writing but is consumed with his own life while dealing with the reality that he might not be as good.
Lola Kirke is brilliant as Tracy as this young college freshman who is trying to find herself in her new surroundings as she copes with her social awkwardness and what she wants to do as a writer as it’s just a real breakthrough for Kirke. Finally, there’s Greta Gerwig in an amazing performance as Brooke as a woman in her late 20s that beats to her own drum as she is a vivacious in the way she talks and lives while is someone who is unable to deal with reality when it comes at her face as it’s a very complex and funny performance from Gerwig.
Mistress America is a phenomenal film from Noah Baumbach that features incredible performances from Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke. It is a film that plays into the world of young women trying to find themselves trying to find out what to do as well as face the harsh realities of the world. Especially as it’s a film that is very smart as well as being very funny in the way life is. In the end, Mistress America is a sensational film from Noah Baumbach.
Noah Baumbach Films: Kicking and Screaming - Highball - Mr. Jealousy - The Squid & the Whale - Margot at the Wedding - Greenberg - Frances Ha - While We're Young - De Palma - The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - Marriage Story - (White Noise (2022 film)) - The Auteurs #41: Noah Baumbach
© thevoid99 2015
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Great review! I really wanted to get into this film, because I loved Frances Ha, but I just couldn't. Great performances, but the story fell flat for me :(
I haven't seen anything by Noah Baumbach, but I wonder if I should check out Frances Ha first just to see if I like his style.
@Courtney-I think it's because it's a film that doesn't rely too much on plot but rather that sense of not knowing when you're young whether it's being a student or in the process of being an adult.
@Ruth-I'd start with The Squid & the Whale and Kicking and Screaming, then go to Frances Ha. He is truly one of the finest figures right now in American cinema.
Ohhhh that WAS Mickey Sumner as the Brooke lookalike. I was like, "Who the hell is that!?" Nice pull there.
Great review man. I loved this movie, just saw it last night. Up there with the best of Baumbach. The Connecticut sequence was remarkable.
@Alex-I'm glad you liked it as well. I was like "hey, is that...?" That was a good trick and certainly one of Baumbach's finest. I'm now eager to see his doc on Brian de Palma.
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