Mistress America (2015) – the latest collaboration between on-screen and off-screen partners Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig – is an uproarious screwball comedy of a type all too rarely seen in modern cinema. It makes up for a certain light-footed approach by scoring huge laughs with an on-point, witty script. Tracy (Lola Kirke) is unhappy at university. Her roommate hates her, she missed out on a place in an illustrious literary society and her crush is unavailable. In want of some fun, she strings along with Brooke (Greta Gerwig), a non-stop thirty-something with a penchant for everything and nothing, who’s set to become her step-sister when their parents marry.
The pair quickly bond, Tracy ripping material from their escapades to write a new short story, and Brooke tirelessly demonstrating her lust for life despite her age (her latest venture is a community restaurant which needs funding), both doing their utmost to hide their true intentions and insecurities from one another. It’s a fizzy, hilarious and forcefully upbeat cavalcade of incidents. Baumbach’s script, which he co-wrote with Gerwig, zings with effervescence, witticisms and sharp dialogue; the characters talking speedily at one another in a manner that’s equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. Gerwig is a whirlwind of exuberance as Brooke, a multi-hyphenate with an opinion on everything.
Brooke’s outward personality rubs off on the audience as it does on Tracy, who becomes every bit obsessed with her sister-to-be, to the point where she mimics and even encourages Brooke’s drive. Kirke (who had a bit part in last year’s Gone Girl), comes close to stealing the rug from right under Gerwig’s feet. It’s a performance that announces the arrival of a bright new talent and she handles the writing with extreme capability, bettering it even. As fun as the film is, however, it ultimately runs out of steam. In the latter half, particularly, as Brooke’s sudden scheme to ask her ex-friend and ex-fiancée for money takes her, Tracy, Tracy’s crush and his significant other to a house in the suburbs, what was a funny, yet insightful probe into female friendships and youth egotism descends into silliness. It’s the kind of silliness that’s still moderately entertaining, but nowhere near the levels achieved towards the start of the film. Mistress America is, despite it’s wobbles and preference for humour over depth, a delightful diversion from Baumbach’s typically weighty output and a star-show for the pair of performers at its centre.
Jamie Neish | @EmptyScreens