Mistress America

L-R: Tracy (Lola Kirke), Brooke (Greta Gerwig), Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas-Jones), and Tony (Matthew Shear) make a spontaneous visit in MISTRESS AMERICA.

By: Shannon Page

Starring Lola Kirke (Gone Girl) as first-year university student Tracy, and Greta Gerwig as her thirty-something future stepsister Brooke, Mistress America is ultimately about dreams;  it is about the things we want to accomplish as well as our goals and desires.  It is also about two women at very different places in their lives who inspire one another.  These characters aren’t always good people and their actions don’t always make them likable to the audience or to one another.  What is refreshing is that director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the WhaleFrances Ha) and Gerwig (who co-wrote the script) have written a film that is about the relationships women form with one another without deviating too far toward sentimentality, or delivering an overt “girl-power” message.

Furthermore, it’s funny!  Mistress America is brimming with memorable moments and quick, quotable dialogue.  Baumbach seems to have realized that the strength of this film is in the characters;  while the camera work and cinematography can’t necessarily be described as minimalistic, the film is fairly unremarkable aesthetically speaking.  Many moments feel more akin to watching live theatre than film, and the references in the dialogue to stages and theatrical works emphasizes these aspects of Mistress America.

The only time that the film seems unsure of itself is in regards to the voice-over narrative that frames the movie as a whole.  While this kind of narrative technique can be useful for intertwining different thematic threads of the story, in Mistress America it often feels forced and conventional.  The added insight the voice over provides in regards to Tracy’s motivations and thoughts isn’t necessary for the audience to understand or sympathize with her.  Lola Kirke is talented enough to convey this.

Though Kirke is wonderful as Tracy, it is Gerwig who really shines.  She is equal parts funny, charismatic, irritating, and believable as Brooke.  The result is a character that tends to be some-what rare in North American film, but which seems to be gaining popularity in recent years: a character who is imperfect, often self-involved, sympathetic, multifaceted, and fully formed – who also happens to be female.

Not many movies haven’t featured strong, confident women in the past, but there seems to be a growing trend toward depicting women as real humans whose emotions, desires, and relationships are complex.  That Baumbach and Gerwig have managed to create a film with complex and compelling female characters that explores the pressures contemporary society places on women without being heavy-handed is something worth celebrating.

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Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage

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