Mistress America (2015)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Much like its writer and star, Greta Gerwig, “Mistress America” is a free-spirit. It has no filter, saying everything that’s on its mind in one big, rambling, run-on sentence, like an 84-minute episode of “Gilmore Girls” that feels at least another twenty minutes longer or the last half of a twelve-hour Congressional filibuster, the part where the Congressman is just trying to fill time. It never stops talking and it never stays on topic. If that wasn’t enough, its conceited script feels like it’s better than you. The characters are hypocritical, arrogant, and two timing, and none of them are wholly relatable. But perhaps more than anything, “Mistress America” is like Gerwig’s character, Brooke—it’s more about ideas than it is about results. Maybe that’s why the finished product turned out to be so disappointing.
Tracy’s (Lola Kirke) life was already a whirlwind of emotions— her mom was remarrying soon, and she was just starting college in New York City and not having much luck making friends—when her future step-sister Brooke (Gerwig) fell into her life. Well, it was sort of the other way around. Tracy had always been a lonely girl, an aspiring writer, seemingly resigned to her quiet future. Brooke, on the other hand, knew that life had big plans for her. A boyfriend on the East side and a blossoming idea (and investors) for a comfy restaurant she would call “Mom’s” was just the first step of her exciting life. Tracy wanted some of that confidence to rub off on her. As it did, both of their lives changed…and not entirely for the better.
On the surface, “Mistress America” had promise. Its big picture was an interesting one—it was bound to be slow regardless of the quality, but it could have worked. Except, while putting this puzzle together, writers Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (who also directed) seemed to rush the process. Inevitably, they lost a few pieces of the puzzle. Or maybe, in their excitement, they shoved the right pieces into the wrong places. Either way, “Mistress America” bum-rushes its audience with a “talk first, ask questions later” mantra that leaves a lot unanswered. Posh, elderly theatergoers laughed at the absurd quips spewing from Brooke’s mouth. I think they felt obligated. Believe me, I feel bad disliking it because I’m sure it was supposed to be good. Maybe Baumbach and Gerwig were trying to recreate their somewhat successful first collaboration, “Frances Ha.” Having seen only twenty minutes of that one before giving up on it, I would say they succeeded. “Mistress America” is quirky, a characteristic that sometimes ruins movies. This time, it didn’t need to. It tries to trick you into thinking it’s well-written by talking so fast you don’t know any better. It wants to be a Woody Allen movie. Its 84 minutes are so jam-packed with dialogue you’ll leave the theater exhausted. But when unlikable characters (and almost all of them are) simply talk in circles, all that dialogue accomplishes very little.
I would issue an apology to the filmmakers, but 1) I know they’d never know or care what I had to say and 2) I don’t feel sorry for them. They knew exactly what they’re doing, and they probably love it. I’m sure they’re patting themselves on the back regardless. Pretentious snobs.