Mistress America is Us; We are Mistress America

17 Aug

Brooke Cardinas

The new Noah Baumbach-directed comedy Mistress America is a hilarious reflection of our current narcissistically focused culture.  Written by Baumbach and his girlfriend Greta Gerwig, who takes a hilarious turn as the overwhelmed and thinly spread Brittany Cardinas, Mistress America is a quick-witted take on the life of a 30-year-old woman struggling to make something of herself.

We first meet Tracy, an 18-year-old Barnard student with aims of making the literary society.  She finally meets the inspiration she needs in the form of Brooke, who is due to become her stepsister when Tracy’s mother marries Brooke’s father.  After calling Brooke, the two meet up and Tracy becomes entranced by the confident and seemingly very worldly young woman who will become her stepsister.  Tracy begins researching Brooke, finding out that she moonlights as a SoulCycle instructor and schmoozes with the who’s who of New York’s creative scene, jumping onstage with bands and name-dropping people she knows.  Tracy’s fascination results with her writing a short story based on Brooke, describing her as a young woman “dragging the corpse” of her youth behind her as she tries to make something of herself.  The title of the short story lends itself to the title of the film.

Brooke’s focus for her future is an investment in a restaurant she wants to call Mom’s.  Her rich boyfriend Stavros, who never appears onscreen (lending to the possibility that he does not exist) is helping Brooke with her portion of the investment.  When Stavros pulls out of the investment, Brooke is left to scramble for $75,000.  She immediately consults a medium, who tells Brooke that she has unfinished business with someone with the initials M.C., who turns out to be Brooke’s former best friend, Mamie-Claire, who stole an idea for a flower print t-shirt from Brooke, reaping the profits, and also married Brooke’s former boyfriend, the very rich and Falstaffian Dylan.

Mistress America

The resolution of the plot comes following an extended scene in Mamie-Claire and Dylan’s modern manse in Greenwich, Connecticut, which Brooke deems as an awful place.  What is most impressive about this film is the committed performances by each actor, but most especially Greta Gerwig, who gives Brooke a boundless energy punctuated by ridiculous dialogue and wayward glances.  Lola Kirke, the younger sister of Girls actress Jemima Kirke, is capable in her role as Tracy.  Another highlight is Heather Lind as the clueless and rich Mamie-Claire, who admits to stealing Brooke’s t-shirt idea of a “hard flower” print.

The dialogue in Mistress America is nearly breathless, with each character, although especially Brooke, spouting endless gems.  At one point, Brooke, almost quite elegantly, describes how as time progresses, our wants become greater and the possibility of fulfilling those wants appears to become less likely.  Gerwig gives her character a moment of quite reflection as she stares off into the ether, saying that “all we have left is wants”.

Brooke Cardinas stands as a symbol for young women (and even some young men) who wish to do something with their lives, yet face endless challenges to getting on their feet.  Mistress America is really a portrait of the struggling millenial who hopes to one day make a living at something they love, yet continues to see that possibility shrink with each passing year.  We are all Brooke Cardinas, in some way.

Although Mistress America is out only four short months after Baumbach’s While We’re Young,  this film shows exactly the reach that he has as a director with his real-life girlfriend helping him with both the screenplay and her performance.  Alongside Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach is truly reaching his apex as a filmmaker.

Mistress America: 8.5 out of 10

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