Even cinephiles make mistakes. After seeing the trailer for ‘Mistress America’, I decided it just looked plain irritating and not to bother seeing it. But to my surprise, after finally watching it yesterday, I absolutely loved it and it has even surpassed ‘The Squid the the Whale’ as my favourite Noah Baumbach film.
18 year old Tracy (Lola Kirke) is having a hard time making friends and settling into her creative writing course at a New York college. Her mother, who is about to get married again, suggests calling Brooke (Greta Gerwig), her future stepdaughter and thirtysomething New York hipster who is also impossibly cool. She lives on Times Square, knows all the best people and places, tutors, coaches, works as a spinning instructor and is about to open a restaurant. Tracy is smitten with her new friend while Brooke is thrilled to have a younger follower who idolises her, but soon Tracy comes to realise Brooke doesn’t quite have it together like she first thought and begins to have doubts about her ever succeeding. Brooke does, however, provide her with great material for a new story she’s writing, entitled ‘Mistress America’ after one of her many failed business ventures.
Although billed as a screwball comedy, I found much in it that was also painful and honest. Tracy is younger but seems to be the more mature one. Brooke is in some ways a continuation of Frances Ha in Baumbach’s earlier film but here she’s also bullying, self-obsessed and ruthless, although she’s still the type of person you’d give your eye teeth to know. Everything culminates in a brilliant sequence of events where Brooke, Tracy and two of her college acquaintances take a trip out to the suburbs to get the funds necessary for the restaurant from Brooke’s ex-boyfriend, Dylan, and his scheming wife, Mamie-Claire, who has made a fortune from Brooke’s T-shirt idea and also stolen her cats.
For me, the film really reflects how it feels to be friends with someone older, to be jealous of their self-assurance and success and also how it feels to be friends with younger people, knowing that your own youth is slipping by and feeling anxious about the future in a way you didn’t use to. It’s refreshing to see such an erudite and witty film which is ultimately about friendship between two women. Of course, I have to mention the excellent central performances of Greta Gerwig who shows herself to be the great comic actress of her generation and a throwback to the likes of Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert, and Lola Kirke, younger sister of Girls’ regular Jemima Kirke, who lights up the screen and shows she’s just as brilliant at delivering sharp dialogue. To be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight for me with ‘Frances Ha’. I almost felt like I had to love it before I’d even seen it because it was a hommage to Truffaut’s films and Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ which are great favourites of mine. But with repeated viewings, I’ve learned to appreciate it on its own terms and feel great affection for it. But ‘Mistress America’ is a film that captivated me from the beginning and seems especially good for autumn with its mixture of humour and more poignant scenes. I can’t wait to come back to it.