Noah Baumbach seems to be on a roll. Earlier this year we saw his writing and directing take center stage with the Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts-starring While We’re Young, which explored ambition, getting older, and the generational gap. Mistress America, co-written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, explores a lot of similar themes, but changes up the relationship aspect. The film is charming, the characters relatable, and the dialogue for the most part is quick and witty.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) has just started university in New York City and has no friends whatsoever. She wants to be a writer and especially wants to get into the elite literary group on campus. Rejection hits hard the first time around, but through the failed attempt she meets a friend/almost-boyfriend (Matthew Shear). Her spirits rise after getting in touch with her future stepsister Brooke (Great Gerwig), whose life is on the cusp of actually happening, but the struggles of not completely realizing what one wants still cause everything to hang in the balance. And so Tracy and Brooke become fast friends amid their life’s changes.

Mistress America is deceiving in its pretense of purely trying to come off as a comedy. Because there is a lot more to it than that. The film carries with it a heartwarming and light tone and this keeps the film engaging throughout, because while it deals with deeper things, it doesn’t become dark. The dialogue is fast-paced and Gerwig’s Brooke most especially comes off a bit like Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in Clueless, sometimes ditzy-ish, but smart and caring and has a lot to say about a lot of different things.

Baumbach plays with varying ideas about age. He blurs the generational gap and shows us two very distinct characters who are at different stages in their lives, but they are each going through a lot of the same things. The figuring out of life hasn’t necessarily happened for Brooke at the age of 30 and although Tracy knows she wants to write, at 18 her options are wide open. Both characters like and admire one another for the same reasons that make them different from one another. Baumbach and Gerwig’s script reflects all of these factors and more. Lola Kirke and Gerwig both give superb performances and their onscreen chemistry is palpable. And Baumbach always excels when he focuses on non-romantic female relationships, which is very rare in the world of film.

Mistress America is a comedy that succeeds in being very deep and about more than just making you laugh. It has charm, a mile-by-the-minute script that culminates in a great in-and-out-of-the-door that you might be used to seeing in theater. It touches on the center relationship between the two almost-stepsisters and makes them individualized in their own way. And you can easily understand and perhaps relate to where each of them is coming from. Filled with heart-warming moments, combined with a witty script, and a great cast, the film is one of Baumbach’s more light-hearted outings and he and Gerwig make it work.

3.5 star

 

Release Date: August 21, 2015 | Director: Noah Baumbach | Screenwriters: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig | Cast: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Charlie Gillette, Matthew Shear, Michael Chernus | Genre: Comedy | MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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