Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mistress America Review

Roughly a third of the way through the film Mistress America, I paused it, got up and used the restroom. Actually scratch that, it's important I am completely accurate here: I got up, got a fresh drink from the fridge, placed it on the end table and then went and used the restroom. My beverage was out of my line of sight for probably a full minute.

I bring this up because it is entirely possible Noah Baumbach snuck into my home during this one minute with some Ethan Hunt maneuvers and put something in my cup. Some sort of potion that made everything with his recent film suddenly click, the magic of the picture suddenly washing over me when just a few minutes earlier I felt a tad cold to the experience. 

Early on Mistress America felt strangely artificial, the dialogue and the delivery a bit phony for my liking. Trying too hard to be funny and only hitting about half the time. It isn't as if I wasn't familiar with the man and his style, as just a couple years earlier I completely bought what he was selling with Frances Ha. This time it just felt...weird.

Until it didn't. After that short aforementioned break, the soda wasn't the only thing that tasted really fucking good.

The film tells the story of a college freshman named Tracy (Lola Kirke), a girl who envisioned a far more exciting life when she first went off to school. Her mom is getting married and suggests that perhaps Tracy should seek out her soon-to-be-stepsister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) and hopefully spark a friendship. Brooke is everything Tracy needs at this moment. She lives in Times Square, she is energetic, she is full of life and always looking for the thrill of an adventure. It's intoxicating for Tracy and they form a deep bond quickly. 

When I used the words artificial and phony before, I was mainly referring to the character of Brooke played by Gerwig. The thing is, I still feel that way now but I have spun it from a negative to a positive. Brooke seems to constantly be in a whirlwind, almost suffering from a form of ADD that derives from hope and optimism and the belief that all of her dreams will come true, most specifically the one in which she opens her own restaurant. Initially Brooke seems to have it all together, but it becomes clear that all of her plans, her vision for her life is unraveling before our eyes and yet she keeps delivering the humorous quips and maintains that joyful smile on her face, but if you look closely the artifice behind it feels authentic. 

This is when I really started to fall in love with the performance by Gerwig. While it is a heavily comedic role, what really got me was the layers she portrayed the character with as the film went along. Sure, Brooke is a bit phony, but ironically because of this she becomes real and honest and believable. When Mistress America started I thought "No one is really like this.". As the story unfolded, I stopped looking at her as a fictional character. Brooke is really like this, and she hides pain with all the flash and fun.

The screenplay from Gerwig and Baumbach, who have formed both a collaborative working and romantic relationship, is truly top notch and does a brilliant job of keeping its themes subtle. I recently wrote a review of the new film We Are Your Friends and I took issue with how predictable and familiar the coming of age tropes played out in that one, and I was begging for a similar story that someone could craft in a way that felt wholly original and actually give me something to chew on. Mistress America is that film. I wasn't on board early, but by the time the brilliantly paced 84 minutes flew by I wanted more. I still want more. I want to watch it again. 

I will watch it again, and hopefully soon. When I do it will be with open eyes and without bathroom breaks. I will observe that first act of the picture and try to figure out what felt so wrong early on, because in the end it all felt so right. 


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