Mistress America (2015)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Noah Baumbach
Run Time
1 hour and 24 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 24 min.

Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 0; Language 2; Sex /Nudity 4.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Eighteen-year-old Tracy (Lola Kirke) is beginning her first semester at Barnard in New York City. Wanting to be a writer, she meets fellow student Tony (Matthew Shear), who also has literary aspirations. She quickly receives two blows—she is rejected by the haughty members of the college’s literary society, and she discovers that Tony has hooked up with Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones)—but he still wants to be friends. Tracy describes her feelings of loneliness to her mother (Kathryn Erbe), by saying, “It’s like being at a party where you don’t know anybody all the time.” Her mother, about to marry again, suggests that Tracy get together with Brooke (Greta Gerwig), the daughter of her fiance.

Brooke, somewhere around 30, agrees to meet her in mid-Manhattan. She turns out to be a human dynamo. The woman is talented in interior design, aerobics (we see her coaching a cycling class), and she has plans to start a family-friendly eatery that will become a center for hair care and a gallery for artists to display their works. Thus far her chief investor is Stavros, her wealthy Greek boy friend, but we never see him because he is out of the country.

Accepting Brook’s invitations to spend nights with her, Tracy is drawn into her orbit, becoming an enthusiastic supporter of her bistro plan. Brooke herself is energized by her young admirer. But then, the longer Tracy stays with her future stepsister, the more she becomes troubled by her mood swings and such incidents as the woman who comes up to them in a restaurant and, explaining that they were in high school together, erupts in anger. It seems that Brooke had ridiculed her in front of their classmates. Brook dismisses her, saying she has no memory of the event. At one point Tracy says, “I’m so impressed by you and so worried for you at the same time.”

Brooke has a knack for drawing out the worst in others as evidenced by her rift with her former best friend Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) who stole her idea of marketing a t-shirt and made a lot of money for herself. When Stavros pulls out of the restaurant project, a medium advises the distraught Brooke to get in touch with her one-time best friend Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) who now lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with Brooke’s wealthy ex-boyfriend Dylan (Michael Chernus).

Amidst all of the above incidents Tracy has become inspired to write and submit a new short story, one that lends its name to the movie. The heroine is pattenered after Brooke, warts and all. The Greenwich visit is the movie’s set piece, with Tony and Nicolette going along—Tony because he wants to support his friend, and the jealous Nicolette to keep a close watch on Tony. It is in the midst of this roomfull of people that Brooke discovers Tracy’s short story. She turns her wrath on Tracy as well as Mamie-Claire. The dust up is funny (Brooke notes that Mamie-Claire stole not only her T-shirt idea and her boyfriends, but the housecats romaing around also were hers), acerbic, and perhaps the beginning of new found wisdom, certainly for Tracy, who is led to ponder the rightness of artistic license when using the life of a friend as a model. Brooke, in her plea to Dylan and Mamie-Claire waxes so eloquent about her bistro being a community building venture that Dylan is persuaded to loan her the money, mush to the dismay of his wife. But what follows brings Tracy to that just mentioned wisdom concerning her mentor. This and

some startling news that Brooke has not yet told Tracy concerning their relationship.

Director Noah Baumbach and his co- writer Greta Gerwig have provided us with another window into the lives of young adults, one equal to that of their delightful 2013 comedy dealing with the failure of a NYC émigré to obtain her dream of becoming a dancer, Francis Ha. In their new film, even before entering her twentieth year, Tracy gains a measure of hard-won maturity, reflected in her comment about Brooke. By now she has learned how flighty her friend is, darting from one unfulfilled project to another, and yet how creative and charismatic she is in fueling the hopes of others around her. In regard to the last trait she says, “Being a beacon of hope for the rest of the world is a lonely business.” She herself has felt this loneliness at college, but now she realizes that this is not unique to her, but part of the human condition. I was reminded of the title of the autobiography of a far more mature woman who discovered this while helping thousands of the downtrodden, social activist Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, who had to choose between her lover and the Catholic Church, opting for the latter because of her deep, newfound faith. Yes, I know hers is far too heavy of a story to connect with this light tale, but then that is what I like about Noah Baumbach’s films. They not only amuse us, but also lead us to think about their themes.

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of VP.

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