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article imageReview: ‘Mistress America’ wears its crown proudly Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 21, 2015 in Entertainment
‘Mistress America’ is Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s latest collaboration, which achieves exceptional levels of witty discourse and complex relationships.
Divorce is a recurring subject in fiction. Even though it’s no longer true that 50 per cent of marriages fail, it was at some point. However re-marriage and the blending of families is portrayed less often, unless in the form of a family-friendly comedy. Being an adult suddenly connected to another adult because of a choice made by your parents is a strange proposition; though it could also be an exciting opportunity to bond with someone who you otherwise would never have met. Both are true in Mistress America, which features a whirlwind sisterhood.
Tracy (Lola Kirke) just moved to New York and is starting her first year of college. She has trouble making friends, but is eager to be recruited by an elite writer’s club. With few other options, she takes her mother’s advice and contacts her soon-to-be step-sister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig). In a single night, the newly 30 socialite shows Tracy a world and self-assuredness she didn’t know existed. Tracy is immediately enamoured and Brooke feeds off of her — and everyone else’s — attention. Of course anything that intense is bound to come to an end and it will not be a quiet conclusion.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach has designated Greta Gerwig his muse, first collaborating with and featuring her in the frenetic drama Frances Ha and now co-writing his second picture with the actress. He likes to explore human interactions that don’t necessarily consist of great matches. His films have demonstrated how people can gravitate to each other and then fly apart with equal verve. In this and his last picture, While We’re Young, there is also an assumption that people use each other for personal and professional gain. Tracy and Brooke’s exchange is described above, but Tracy is reliant on her sister’s dynamism for more than just generating some excitement in her otherwise humdrum life. Baumbach has proven a talented filmmaker compared to Wes Anderson and Woody Allen, but Gerwig seems to bring a lively female perspective to his work that isn’t limited to specific circumstances.
Brooke is an expert conversationalist, which requires a robust script of witty observations, energetic monologues and melodrama. At one point she claims to know everything about herself, which is why she could never do therapy. And when confronted by an ex-classmate, Brooke’s indifference is both astonishing and liberating. Although she appears hyperactive, she seems to have finally reached a point in her life where she can focus that energy constructively. On the other hand, even though Tracy is not as gregarious as her idol, she is no less articulate in her voiceovers or moments of self-expression and confession; yet as the younger of the two, it’s not as polished as Brooke’s dialogue. Tracy’s fascination with Brooke’s personality and lifestyle is borderline obsessive, but also a product of her ongoing search for her own place in the world.
This picture is as amusing as it is bold, carried exquisitely by its veteran and newer actresses. Their chemistry is tangible with Kirke visibly inspired by Gerwig’s vitality and fearlessness. Both roles are very emotional though the range and expression of their feelings differ greatly; and both women are exceptionally convincing in portraying their respective sentiments. As the narrative progresses, their entourage gradually grows by accident and coercion. And then it reaches maximum capacity at the same time the group reaches its boiling point, leading to a hysterical clash of pretentious egos and crushed dreams.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke and Michael Chernus
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