A review of Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America,” starring Greta Gerwig as a young Manhattanite on the move. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Greta Gerwig brings a goofy lightness to writer/director Noah Baumbach’s tone; their last two films together, “Frances Ha” and the new “Mistress America” (both of which Gerwig co-wrote) seem to airily flirt with the audience. “Mistress America,” at times, feels like an old-school screwball comedy, with characters bouncing tangled dialogue off each other at a rapid-fire pace; it doesn’t always work, but it leaves you with a pleasantly nostalgic feeling.
Gerwig here plays Brooke, a Manhattanite full of plans. She is, or hopes to be, a fitness instructor, a designer, a writer and a restaurateur who plans to open a sort of bistro/hair salon/community center. Given to proclamations like “He’s the kind of person I hate, except that I’m in love with him,” she’s just the sort of woman a young, uncertain college freshman might idolize. That freshman is Tracy (funny, raspy-voiced Lola Kirke), enduring a disappointing first semester of college — and quickly caught up in the perfumed, giddy air that seems to surround Brooke.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Mistress America,’ with Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Sheare, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Heather Lind, Michael Chernus. Directed by Noah Baumbach, from a screenplay by Baumbach and Gerwig. 84 minutes. Rated R for language including some sexual references. Several theaters.
“Mistress America” (the title is the name of a superhero Brooke has invented, which later becomes the title of a short story by Tracy), much of which unfolds from Tracy’s point of view, wonderfully captures the uncertainty of the early days of college. Crushed when she’s not accepted into a prestigious literary society (particularly when a guy down the hall gets chosen, who “doesn’t even look like a writer”), Tracy gets pulled into Brooke’s life, bringing with her a dorm crush (Matthew Sheare) and his increasingly bitter girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas-Jones).
The dialogue’s a pleasure (this is one of those rare movies that leaves you with a desire to read the screenplay), but what keeps “Mistress America” from soaring was, to me, a certain flat glibness to all the characters. Particularly in the increasingly screwball final third of the movie, it was hard to connect with any of these people; they became notes in a chorus of rat-a-tat-tat. There’s something enchanting, though, about the way Tracy’s eyes shine when she looks at Brooke, and about how Gerwig sunnily conveys endless optimism and hope. You know, leaving the film, that Tracy will become a writer, and that Brooke … well, she’ll work it all out, somehow.