"Mistress America" Review

There is something very necessary about portraying the female experience in all its varying forms. It is a story often left behind — or at least out of focus. Mistress America — directed by Noah Baumbach and cowritten with Greta Gerwig — is  a unique approach to the complicated relationships that enrich and detract from being a girl in this world. And no, this isn’t about a boy.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is the Barnard babe we all wish we were when we started our freshman year at college. She is intelligent, knows how to rock a blazer and her literary aspirations are classically indie. There is one tiny problem though: she does not fit in, or at least her peers seem to have little interest in letting her join in on the freshmen fun. Tracy laments to her mother about her lonely days and nights on campus and her mother reminds her to get in touch with Brooke (Greta Gerwig), her soon-to-be step sister.

Brooke is the thirty-flirty-and-thriving NYC woman, hitting all of the benchmarks of a fabulous New York City lifestyle. At first glance, she does not seem to be the answer to Tracy’s dashed college dreams, but in girl world, the solution to the problem is not about finding the perfect solution — it’s about finding the best solution for right now. Fans of Gerwig’s character from Frances Ha may find Brooke a little grating. She’s manic and blissfully unaware of her shallowness. For Tracy though, Brooke offers up the fun and sophistication that has been lacking from her college experience. They are an immediate pair, informed by Gerwig and Kirke’s obvious chemistry.

Mistress America could’ve easily turned into a self-aware commentary on this generation and the plight of the aimless twenty-something. Instead, the film becomes a situational comedy featuring quick-witted characters who offer a plethora of depth depending on the life experience of the audience member. By stepping away from the will-the-girl-get-the-boy formula, Baumbach and Gerwig have created a film about the other, if not more important, relationships that come in and out of a girl’s life. This film is about the positive and negative experiences we all go through as we chose who to align ourselves with — how you find yourself through the good and the bad. 

Baumbach and Gerwig clearly know how to get things done. Speaking after the screening I saw, Gerwig noted that Mistress was shot in only 60 days — an extended vacation compared to the 50 days the pair used to shoot Francis Ha. Baumbach and Gerwig also know how to use their time to tell a story that is often not told. Combining an 80s touch and feel (especially apparent in the soundtrack) with quick dialogue, Mistress America offers up the charm, quirk and depth of your favorite short story.

Rating: B

Mistress America releases this weekend in select theaters!