FILM REVIEW: Mistress America (2015)

Mistress America is quite simply New York embodied in a film. It’s quirky, bright and fast-paced, all in equal measure. The two leads, Lola Kirke and Greta Gerwig, are a perfect match, with Gerwig frequently collaborating with director Noah Baumbach, including in the much loved Frances Ha (2013). The two have such chemistry that they could have been the sole actors of the film and it would still have been captivating to watch. The script, packed with clever retorts and lines which pack a profound punch, is brought to life with panache.

The film follows Tracy (Kirke) embarking on her freshman year in New York, but soon falling out of touch with sole friend Tony. She discovers her mother has plans to marry a man, who turns out to have an older daughter, Brooke. Tracy meets her new sister (Gerwig) and is surprised by Brooke’s energy and “live for the day” optimism. Brooke carries much of the film’s energy, with her bubbly youthfulness defying her age, and the almost casual way the two interact is so brilliantly effortless that it is a joy to watch. Tracy’s fascination with Brooke inspires her writings, leading her to write a short story based on her sister, titled Mistress America. The flaws in Brooke’s character are gradually revealed through her emotional frailty and difficulties to move on, while Tracy’s admiration of her begins to flake. The fragility of both is subtly exposed by the probing camera work and minimalist soundtrack, with an excellent New Order style theme.

Characters are vitally important to this kind of film and they are all lovingly unique and memorable. A particular highlight is Mimi Claire, Brooke’s arch enemy who has stolen her ideas and her lover and is fantastically uptight and self righteous. A substantial portion of the film, and its best section, is spent at Mimi’s expansive house, where Brooke is trying to convince her to invest in a restaurant idea and is where much of the funniest material is to be found. The rapid argumental interchanges between the two, with poisonous glares and venomous responses, move at breakneck speed and provide little respite. Tony’s girlfriend also adds to the conflict, consistently hovering around him due to fears that he will cheat on her. When Brooke learns of these worries, she despairs of them, remarking that they shouldn’t be worried about adultery at their age, one of my favourite moments of the film.

One downfall of the film was that the ending felt ever so slightly rushed, perhaps due to the lengthy section in Mimi’s house, and while it wrapped up the conflict satisfyingly, it felt a little rapid, even in the context of the film’s lightning fast dialogue. Ultimately, Mistress America is a triumph in optimistic and character driven film. It seamlessly combines emotional power with eccentric writing to leave us more than fulfilled when the credits roll.

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