Tag Archives: Independent Film

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

Una Noche: Lost Dreams of Havana’s Youth

17 Sep

Una Noche is a phenomenally well made film that explores what lies at the heart of every person – the innate desire for something more.  Directed by a friend I met while attending NYU, the film makes use of brilliant cinematography, fluid editing, and the sheer power of storytelling to bring us the tale of Elio and his twin sister Lila.  Elio (Javier Nunez Florian) works in a hotel kitchen, cooking for tourists who pass through Havana on vacation.  His twin sister Lila (Anailin de la Rua De la Torre) is his constant companion.  The two explore Havana together, running amok with other teenagers.  Early on, we learn that Lila cannot swim, which foreshadows a major event in the plot.

Elio, dissatisfied with his dead-end life in Havana, is planning to make an escape from the island to Miami with his friend and co-worker, Raul (Dariel Arrechaga).  Raul hopes to soon be reunited with his father in Miami.  Together, Elio, Lila, and Raul comprise a set of Havana youth that are privy to the disappointments and hopelessness that often accompany reality.  This film is not a fairy tale.  Una Noche, without giving too much away, is a realistic story of just how bad life can get.  This film documents desperation, and the measures that people will take to escape it.

Una Noche resonated with me on a personal level due to the fact that part of my heritage is based in Cuba.  My maternal grandfather grew up in Havana, and his family managed to make their way to New York City prior to the Cuban Revolution.  The Cuban economy would deteriorate over the next few decades, largely in part to their trade dependence with the Soviet Union.  What struck me so deeply while watching the film was how lucky I have been in my life to have not been privy to some of the things that my grandparents and their parents endured.  I’ve mostly lead a privileged life, attended private university, and worked cushy office jobs.  People like Elio, Raul, and Lila are representative of the vast majority of the world’s population.  There is a world out there that is much bigger than consumerism and folly – people are ill, starving, and fighting to live.  Una Noche is a stark reminder of just how good many people have it, but always forget out of convenience.

What Una Noche documents very well is the crumbling and tense state of Havana.  It is a place where white foreigners come to bask in the sun on the beach, but the natives, who vary in complexion from light to caramel to dark brown, are relegated to the parts of Havana that no tourist would dare venture to.   What touched me the most was how happy the children were, despite living in abject poverty in the slums of Havana.  For me, this film was as much about social issues as it is about the power of hope, and what lengths people will go to in order to change the course of their lives.

The fates that befall Elio, Lila and Raul result from an encounter Raul has with a tourist.  Once again, the power of the foreign other is what pushes the three to the brink of a life or death decision.  The opening of the film introduces the voice of an English tourist proclaiming, “this is their story, not ours”.   A poignant touch to an otherwise startling, breathless film.  This is indeed the story of those that will very rarely be told.   The young actors who played the three main characters are very naturally gifted, and they embody their characters completely.  Lucy Mulloy, in her directorial debut, proves that she is a consummate storyteller and a voice for the voiceless.

Una Noche is currently playing in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theater at 11523 Santa Monica Boulevard, and in New York City at the IFC Center, located at 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street.