With Frances Ha (2012), Noah Baumbach showed his skills as a writer and director. A new wave of American cinema was hinted at with the effervescent and unique way Baumbach told his story. He followed that up with the hugely enjoyable While We’re Young (2014) (starring Ben Stiller, in his best performance in a long while). The low-key and conversationalist style of Baumbach along with the close-up way of his shooting (in which we find ourselves walking into the middle of scenes that might otherwise find us on the outside) made these films, and many of his others, truly unique.
Baumbach has been one of those directors that I’ve kept an eye on. When Mistress America was released I was eager to check it out, especially with Noah bringing Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Lola Versus) back for the lead role.
Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college freshman in the big city (NYC) and finds herself feeling alone. She meets her stepsister (almost), Brooke (Gerwig), and through her she is shown around the town. It isn’t your typical tour around a new place though, as Tracy finds herself mixed up in the scheming and outlandish behaviour of her new friend. It’s a fish-out-of-water tale on one side, and a finding-it-hard-to-come-to-terms-with-getting-older tale on the other. Kirke and Gerwig work well with each other, but the fresh and fascinating aura of Frances Ha is more of a twinkling light in the distance here. This isn’t a weak film in any way but it just didn’t have the exceptionality of Frances Ha (or even, for me, While We’re Young).
The heart of the tale deals with one person being influenced by another, but the influence in question is struggling with her place in life. Gerwig is impetuous and immature with a hectic and destructive ego, while Tracy is looking for change and finds it in a messy place. The two of them make bad decisions and mistakes throughout their stories. It has sentiment and the cast do a good job, but there are some cliché moments and Gerwig borders on being too maddening to feel sympathy towards at times. I did love the messages that existed here though, and that’s something that Baumbach is very good at. His way of providing grey areas and deep flaws in his characters makes his movies both relatable and straight-up diverse.
Change is something we all deal with at various times throughout our lives, and Mistress America is a snapshot of that, and a very watchable one too. While not on par with some of his other work, this is still a film that I really liked. It will be interesting to see where Noah Baumbach goes next.
3.25 out of 5