Each month, Good Times' resident film critic, Sarah Smyth, chooses a hotly anticipated film for our readers. For August, she picks screwball comedy, Mistress America.
In his latest feature, Mistress America, director and screenwriter, Noah Baumbach continues to probe into the never-endingly mocked yet undeniably popular cult of the New York millennial hipster. The indie darling’s previous works have proved successful and popular. Baumbach’s achingly hip but utterly charming 2012 film, Frances Ha, followed the hapless but endearing Frances (played by his real-life partner, Greta Gerwig) as her life appears to be stagnating in comparison to her seemingly successful peers. Baumbach followed this up in 2014 with the solid While We’re Young, which followed Ben Stiller’s Josh and Naomi Watts’ Cornelia as they struggle with growing old after meeting a young, hip couple played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.
If Frances Ha was an endearingly comical poke at millennial hipsterdom and While We’re Young was a meditation on the widening gap between these hipsters and their older counterparts, Mistress America is a combination of the two. For one, the film reunites Baumbach with Gerwig both on and off-screen as she both stars and co-writes the film. For another, the film revisits the subjects of ageing, youth culture and New York City.
Mistress America follows Tracy, played by Lola Kirke, sister of Girls actress, Jemima Kirke and cousin of model Alice Dellal, as she struggles with feelings of loneliness as she starts college. From here she meets Brooke, played by Gerwig, an exciting girl-about-town and her soon-to-be stepsister. What follows promises to be a screwball farce, resulting in the girls ending up in Connecticut to avenge the woman who stole Brooke’s business idea, boyfriend and cats.
Like Frances Ha before it, Mistress America centralises female characters and friendships. Baumbach and Gerwig’s skills in creating complex, nuanced and empathetic (if not always likeable) female characters promises to prevent Brooke from turning into the stereotype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. As Nathan Rabin, who coined the term, claims, this stereotype exists ‘solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures’. Flattening the female character’s autonomy and inner life, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists for the man. Despite Tracy being a female character, the dynamic between her awe and admiration for Brooke’s wild and idiosyncratic ways could easily mirror the relationships set up between the (conventionally male) character and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Yet, the quality of the writing and Gerwig’s performance, both so full of charm and awareness, promises to undercut this conventional trope. Following the accomplishments of Frances Ha and While We’re Young, Mistress America’s challenge to cinema’s conventional depictions of female characters, as well as the generally high-quality filmmaking, promises to single Baumbach out as one of the best contemporary American filmmakers.
Why it’s worth seeing: Baumbach is one of the most exciting indie filmmakers working today. Mistress America promises to cement this title following the impressive and critically acclaimed Frances Ha and While We’re Young. Gerwig, in addition, is a delight on screen with her long, loose-limbed energy and perfect comic timing. After her breakout role in Gone Girl, Lola Kirke also promises to be an exciting screen presence. With the quality of the director, screenwriters and cast, and with a story which promises to crackle on screen, Mistress America is this month’s one to watch.
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Sarah is our regular film blogger. Learn more about her here.