By Don Simpson | August 28, 2015
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Heather Lind, Michael Chernus, Rebecca Henderson, Kareem Williams, Dean Wareham, Cindy Cheung, Colin Stokes
Tracy (Lola Kirke) is an 18-year-old who just started her freshman year at Barnard. An aspiring fiction writer, Tracy is somewhat introverted and closed-off, which makes it kind of difficult for her to make friends at college. At her mother’s urging, Tracy eventually turns to her future stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), for companionship. She has never met Brooke, but she is mesmerized at first sight — and who could blame her after Brooke’s iconic entrance, strutting down the red staircase in Duffy Square proclaiming “Welcome to the Great White Way!”
Brooke is, without a doubt, a character, and precisely the character Tracy needs for her next short story. Brooke’s overwhelming personality teamed with grandiose daydreams and wild impulses makes her the perfect literary muse for Tracy. A 30-year-old Manhattanite who is perpetually bursting with energy and fairly intense, Brooke always seems slightly over-caffeinated; her mind is always working, thinking up wild and crazy ideas. Brooke’s latest scheme is a restaurant, one that would simultaneously be a hip hangout and a friendly family place; it might even include an upscale bodega and hair salon. The restaurant hinges upon Brooke acquiring all of the necessary financing, which means winning the confidence of investors to fuel her fantasy, kind of like an independent filmmaker.
After their first night together, Tracy writes a story about Brooke, then submits it to a prestigious literary journal. Tracy clandestinely steals Brooke’s persona, even the name of the story (“Mistress America”) is taken from a television series idea of Brooke’s. Thievery, however, is in the eye of the beholder. Tracy believes she is just writing about her life experiences and the people around her, something plenty of other novelists have done in the history of literature. Besides Brooke, Tracy’s narrative intersects with a series of novelistic characters, several of whom end up in a Greenwich house together during the film’s chaotic climax. One can only assume they will all become fodder for Tracy’s creativity sometime in the near future, or maybe someone like Noah Baumbach will make a film about them…you know, like Mistress America.
Penned by Greta Gerwig and Baumbach, Mistress America is a brilliant showcase of an impeccably literary script. Rhythmic delivery and unabashed verbosity fuels the wild and whimsical spitfire dialogue spoken with free-flowing fancy. The writing style hearkens back to the slapstick comedies of the 1940s, echoing the pitch-perfect panache of Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges.
Anyone who is familiar with Gerwig will recognize that Kirke is essentially playing a younger version of her — an effect that grows increasingly meta as Tracy begins to mimic some of Brooke’s traits and patterns. All the while, Gerwig morphs into a bold Hollywood actress of yesteryear, with the empowering presence and zeal of Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck. Both Kirke and Gerwig put in amazing performances and their chemistry is a pleasure to behold.