Mistress America

MISTRESS AMERICA,  US, 2015.  Starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Michael Chernus, Kathryn Erbe. Directed by Noah Baumbach. 84 minutes.  Rated MA (Strong coarse language). 

Greta Gerwig gets very good reviews for her screen performances, especially in the films of Noah Baumbach, specifically Greenberg and the tour de force performance in Frances Ha.

There is quite some similarity between Frances Ha and Brooke, one of the central characters of Mistress America and the title subject of a short story written by the other central character, Tracy, played effectively by Lola Kirke.

Now, this is a New York story, which is not merely meant to be a descriptive phrase but something of a warning or a caution. The characters are those that we find sometimes in particularly New York stories, characters who have their eccentricities, live in an artificial world in a city that is really not like any other in the United States. They speak in a different way. Their concerns are different. They behave in ways that are unexpected and sometimes oddball. This is definitely the case in Mistress America.

The initial focus is on Tracy, at college, with great ambitions to be a writer and being chosen for the college club for authors, submitting her work, especially, after she meets Brooke, her story based on her imagination of an encounter with Brooke, which she calls Mistress America.

Tracy is a touch introverted, takes up with a young student with similar literary interests but who can’t quite relate to her as she wishes and takes up with another student. In the meantime, Tracy’s mother, with whom she has many phone conversations, is about to marry Brooke’s father and the suggestion is that Tracy look up Brook and get to know her future half-sister.

This happens, but Brooke is something of an enigma, 30 years old, starstruck about living in Times Square after her origins in New Jersey, living in a loft, her boyfriend marrying one of her friends who has also stolen her ideas for designs (as well as her cats), and Brooke is thinking of investing in a restaurant if she can find the money. This indicates that she is more than a little scatty. There is a key sequence in a restaurant where a woman approaches her, claims that they knew each other at school, then empties out her resentment at how Brooke bullied and insulted her at school – which Brooke blithely dismisses as her problem not Brooke’s.

After consulting a seer, Brooke decides to visit the old rival and her husband in Greenwich Connecticut, taking Tracy with her, as well as the young man from college and his girlfriend. There is quite some comedy in the encounter in Greenwich, Brooke confronting Maimie-Claire about her ideas, taking her boyfriend – and the cats. Also in the act is a woman from a group that had been meeting at Maimie Claire’s who is waiting for her husband, the neighbour who is not very happy about Maimie Claire and her husband. Through roundabout means, everyone has the opportunity to read Tracy’s story – and all of them are against it, on Brooke’s side, who declares she has been betrayed and is hurt.

And the parents’ marriage is off, Tracy’s mother refusing to become a Catholic!

In a film like this, the only remaining thing is to find out in what direction Tracy is going and whether she can reconcile with Brooke – and whether she is going to have a literary career. And to find out in which direction Brooke would go (and a sequel is not unthinkable!).

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Fox.  Released October 29th

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