Freshmen are so immature anyway! Just hang out with the older-crowd!
Tracy (Lola Kirke) has just started her freshman year of college and already, she’s not a huge fan of it. For one, she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life; she wants to be a writer, but in order to so, she needs to join up with the school’s writer’s group, who aren’t as welcoming as she’d like. Also, Tracy doesn’t have many friends that she can continuously hang out with. Even though she considers Tony (Matthew Shear), a fellow aspiring novelist, a solid friend of hers, he soon starts taking up with a girl that she’s a bit jealous of and doesn’t really care for. So one night, out of pure boredom and desperation, Tracy decides to call up her soon-to-be-step-sister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who is a lot different from what she’d expected. Because Brooke’s a lot more eccentric and fun than a lot of the other people Tracy knows, they start to hang out more and more, where Tracy starts to mooch off of Brooke more and more, even though Brooke doesn’t even care to notice because she’s currently too occupied with plans of having her own restaurant. But eventually, the truth about Brooke’s past comes into play and it isn’t before long that Tracy realizes Brooke isn’t all that she’s made-out to be.
For better, as well as for worse.
I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Noah Baumbach. Somehow, he was able to film a whole, 85-minute narrative-flick, starring both Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke, in secret, without anyone knowing, and have it still feel like a well thought-out movie. Though it definitely seems like a lot of it was made-up on the fly, for the most part, Baumbach knows the story he wants to tell and even though it’s not going to tear down the walls like he did with Frances Ha, he’s still going to give the world a little piece of indie-cinema.
Doesn’t make it a great movie or anything, but the intentions are good and sometimes, that’s what matters.
Problem is, though, Mistress America feels like it’s trying too hard. But not in the way you’d expect Baumbach’s movies to be. In most of his other flicks, Baumbach seems so intent and keen on making his characters so unlikable and grating, that he sometimes forgot how to tell a story and make it some bit of compelling. Here, however, he loves his character’s so much and wants the audience to feel the same way, that he, once again, forgets how to tell a story and make it compelling.
Which isn’t to say that the first-half or so of this movie isn’t. Baumbach’s biggest strength here is that he portrays what it’s like to be a college freshman and have not a single clue what the hell to do with your life. Not too long ago, you were a clear-headed person with enough inspiration for what you wanted to do, but then, literally out of nowhere, you’re thrown into this great, big, and new world where you’re the tiniest fish in the sea and left without anyone to latch onto or follow. Everybody else seems to be going somewhere, but you, on the other hand, don’t, and it’s, at times, both frustrating and miserable.
This is how Tracy feels and Lola Kirke does a great job with the role, as a whole. For one, Tracy’s naive enough that when she eventually meets a person who wants to be her friend and hang around with her, she can’t help but follow that person’s each and every move. At the same time though, she’s also smart enough to use this for her personal-gain where she is, in ways, using Brooke. Sometimes, it’s to help create her story, other times, it’s to get a free meal and night out on the town. But overall, Kirke feels like a fully-realized and understandable young adult.
Something that Brooke never quite feels like.
However, because she’s played by Greta Gerwig, there’s a certain amount of likability to her that makes it easy to get past the fact that this character is nothing more than just a type. She’s the kind of character you’d find in an episode of Girls that Lena Dunham would use as a soap-box moment to make a point about the type of self-involved young women that she loathes (even if she herself may be one). Which is fine for a half-hour long show, but for a near-hour-and-a-half movie that depends on this character for a sense of morality, it doesn’t quite work.
Because the main protagonist is so in love with Gerwig’s character, it only makes all the more sense that the movie would act the same way and while it’s sometimes funny to hear what ridiculous things this character has to say, after awhile, it becomes clear that it’s a crutch the movie falls back on. Soon, the last-half comes in and while it’s quick, random, and constantly moving, it also feels randomly thrown in there. It’s clear that Baumbach wants this to be his “screwball comedy”-try, but it makes a lot of these characters sound cloying and irritating.
It’s a nice effort, though. It’s just a little too late.
To be fair though, it should be noted that these characters do eventually get their comeuppances. While they may not be as serious or as life-changing as they probably would be in the real life, they still feel like a nice treat from Baumbach showing that the real world does exist. Even though half of the movie seems like it took place in some ultra-witty land where everyone has a snappy comeback to anything ever said to them, there’s still a glimmer of harsh truths to be found; the truths where people have to learn to grow up, stop depending on others, and see what they can make of themselves while they’re at it.
Basically, what Baumbach’s always been talking about since he got started.
Consensus: Despite some charm, Mistress America loves itself a bit too much to really be all that hilarious and ends up taking away from the more insightful aspects.
6 / 10