Noah Baumbach is not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s fitting he’s done work with Wes Anderson because they both have similar deadpan, rather “twee” humor and dialogue, but whereas Anderson’s films have the distinctive, storybook visual structure, Baumbach’s directorial work tends to stay firmly in the “real” world. Sometimes I find this insufferable or tone deaf, but sometimes it works really well. His film Frances Ha, which he co-wrote with Greta Gerwig, was a lot of fun, and he re-teamed with her with this year’s Mistress America, a film that rides the line of being too clever and lands on the side of being just enjoyable.
Both this and Frances Ha are under 90 minutes, and that’s not because their stories are slight or underdeveloped; it’s because everybody talks so darn fast that they get through what’s probably a 100-page script in 84 minutes. This film feels like a millennial take on a 1940s screwball farce. People are verbally silly and the situations are increasingly ridiculous, but there’s also definite heart and realness of emotion that makes the film more resonate than it might be otherwise.
The film stars Lola Kirke as Tracy, a young college freshman who has moved to New York for school. She doesn’t seem to fit in but dreams of becoming a writer. She wants more than anything to be part of a snooty exclusive writers group, but can’t seem to find the proper muse. At the same time, because she’s a bit lonely, she gets in touch with the daughter of her mother’s fiance, the older and much cooler Brooke (Gerwig). Brooke, it turns out, is a jack of all trades but master of none who seems like she has it all figured out but doesn’t at all. She’s is all ideas and very little follow-through. She lives in Time Square, does some freelance interior design, and is pretty much adorably pretentious.
Tracy begins to idolize her soon-to-be step-sister to the detriment of other friendships she’s cultivating, and all the while she writes a supposedly fictional story based entirely around Brooke’s life, complete with rather unflattering and disparaging commentary about Brooke’s state of mind. Everything comes to a head when Brooke, Tracy, and some friends of Tracy’s go to the home of Brooke’s ex-fiance and his wife who used to be her best friend in order to get funding for a restaurant business venture. This is easily the best scene in the movie and it lasts awhile. It’s like a French farce of people walking in and out of rooms and talking over each other and about nothing and everything. It’s really great.
Mistress America is what a light indie comedy ought to be and it never treats the audience like they’re dumb. One critic called it “eminently quotable” and I completely agree. I laughed at this movie a lot more than I did at Baumbach’s last movie, the coulda-been-funny-but-dropped-the-ball While We’re Young. This is a movie about New Yorkers being New Yorky, but it’s not insufferable the way some of those are. And Gerwig is hilarious.
The Blu-ray is pretty light, containing only some EPK material, a stills gallery, and a trailer, but it’s a movie worth watching, so Red Box or instant-video it for sure.
Image: Fox Searchlight
Kyle Anderson is a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter why don’t ya!?