Noah Baumbach's career seems to have the same ebb-and-flow as that of Woody Allen, with the high peaks being separated by sea-level valleys. He followed up the remarkable The Squid and the Whale
with the disappointing Margot at the Wedding
. Then, he went from the charming Francis Ha
to the mediocre While We're Young
. True to form, Baumbach bounces back from While We're Young
with another great movie, the highly enjoyable Mistress America
stars Lola Kirke (Gone Girl
) as Tracy Fishko, a young girl who is overwhelmed when she goes off to college in New York City. Knowing no one else in The Big Apple, Tracy reluctantly calls her mother's fiancée's daughter, Brooke Cardenes (Francis Ha
's Greta Gerwig), an adventurous social butterfly who lives in the heart of everything, both literally and figuratively. Brooke shows Tracy how much fun the city can be, taking her to clubs, getting her drunk, and introducing her to bands. As the two future step-sisters become closer, they start to confide in one another, and Tracy learns all of Brooke's seemingly hair-brained schemes for financial and spiritual success. While Tracy encourages Brooke to follow her dreams, she also finds a muse in her, secretly using Brooke as the inspiration for a character in a series of stories that she writes.
Noah Baumbach works well with Greta Gerwig. Not just on a director-actress level, but as co-writers as well. Mistress America
is the second feature co-written by the pair. As the movie's star, Gerwig completely anchored Francis Ha
both onscreen and off, and there's a similar feeling of her presence within the writing of Mistress America
, particularly in the witty repartee between Brooke and Tracy (which is, admittedly, half the movie). The story itself is the classic tale of struggling student-meets-successful mentor, but Mistress America
is much more than just a simple coming-of-age story about an innocent girl being guided through the perils and pitfalls of the big city. At first, it seems as if Tracy is a tagalong, but once the two ladies get to know each other and the walls come down, they become equals, with Tracy supporting and cheerleading for Brooke, and vice versa. Brooke learns just as much from Tracy as Tracy learns from Brooke. Is it a chick flick? Well, technically, yeah. But, because it was made under the watchful eye of Noah Baumbach, it wears the clever disguise of an Art Film.Mistress America
is a smart, engaging, and entertaining film. There's no big world-ending drama, just a couple of nice personal stories. On the Baumbach scale, it falls closer to Francis Ha
than it does to While We're Young
, and that's exactly how it should be.
The obvious leads in Mistress America
are Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke, and the gals are fun to watch, but they're not quite enough to carry the entire movie. Luckily, they have plenty of help from a very talented and skilled ensemble. Matthew Shear (who also worked with Baumbach in While We're Young
) plays Tracy's dorky not-boyfriend from college, Tony. Michael Chernus (Captain Phillips
) plays Brooke's ex, and Heather Lind ("TURN: Washington's Spies") plays the rival who stole him from her. Cindy Cheung (Obvious Child
) and Dean Wareham (who's becoming a staple of Baumbach's movies, with appearances in Francis Ha
and While We're Young
as well) show up in small but quality roles. The entire cast comes together towards the end of the film in a series of silly events that would almost give the impression of being improvised if the dialogue wasn't so well-written. It's hard to imagine any of the roles in Mistress America
, even the small ones, being played by any other actors because the camaraderie is so perfect. It's a joy to watch that cast on that screen in that movie.
It's a little unfair that Noah Baumbach's movies get classified as comedies, because they're really not. Instead of being laugh-out-loud funny, they're knowingly-smilingly amusing. Nothing has changed with Mistress America. It's full of wit and charm, but it's more of a purely entertaining movie than any kind of a knee-slapper. There's a chuckle here and there, but nothing side-splitting. It's just an enjoyable film, but not a gut-busting comedy. Basically, Mistress America is the type of movie that audiences have come to expect from Noah Baumbach.