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Mistress America - review

Dec 4, 2015 Film & TV

For a certain sort of movie-goer, depictions of New York induce both pleasure and pain. Who among us hasn’t experienced a pang of jealousy and longing for a bookish Upper West Side brownstone or a Chelsea loft, and the lifestyle to go with it?

Few people better represent the boho New York dream than indie-cinema darlings Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, but their new film suggests they haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.

Mistress America is a comedy about New York strivers in a city where self-made success is increasingly rare. Gerwig plays Brooke, a self-centred but uncynical girl-about-town with plans to open a restaurant/hair salon/general store called “Mom’s”.

With her flair for drama and love for long words, it’s immediately obvious just how needy and delusional Brooke is. But it’s a while before Tracy (Lola Kirke), her protégé and soon-to-be stepsister, catches on.

Rejected by her classmates and the literary journal to which she submits her short stories, Tracy is more self-aware than Brooke, but just as desperate for acceptance.

The movie portrays her lonely plight with empathy and a lot of humour. When she meets the confident and social Brooke, it’s a girl crush at first sight. Their early scenes together, the older woman gleefully doling out bon mots and bad advice to her young acolyte, are some of Mistress America’s best moments, a giddy rush of parties, sleepovers and cute guys.

And then Brooke, Tracy, Tracy’s friend Tony and Tony’s jealous girlfriend Nicolette take a car trip to Connecticut, and the movie takes a dive. The screwball comedy curdles into farce once the principals are confined within the mansion of a couple with whom Brooke has a score to settle.

For most of its running time, however, Mistress America fizzes with energy and laugh-out-loud lines.

The soundtrack brazenly references coming-of-age movies of the 80s, and New York looks wonderful throughout. As a paean to the dreamers, self-starters and eccentrics who made the city great, Mistress America works a charm.


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