Mistress America — 7/10

MISTRESS AMERICA (2015, Noah Baumbach)

Like a child of divorced parents, spending the week with its cool mom FRANCES HA and the weekend with its dorky dad WHILE WE’RE YOUNG, MISTRESS AMERICA has qualities of both and almost finds a way to express its own identity (most notably in its struggle to become a French farce in the second half). Just when it’s cruising on sharp-tongued comedy, well-defined characters, and unpredictable whimsy, it bogs itself down — for seemingly no reason at all — with forced conflict yet again involving intellectual property, the blurring of lines between fiction and non-fiction, and betrayal between friends of unbalanced ages.

Baumbach has been playing with these themes and characters for years in different variations – including the writer and professor in THE SQUID & THE WHALE, the tentative college grads in KICKING & SCREAMING, the mismatched couple in GREENBERG. But with Gerwig as his co-writer, star, and muse in this film and FRANCES HA, a more playful and less acerbic Baumbach comes forward, letting the camera relax and observe its stars rather than confine them.

Kirke and Gerwig benefit greatly from this style, and both deliver strong, fully realized performances — though it’s Gerwig who comes out the best, not just because of her talent, but because her character is a rocketship: she’s Gatsby to Kirke’s Nick, the Dickie to her Tom, the Mozart to her Salieri. Tracy is a sympathetic character, but sees just how grounded she is compared to the marrow-gnawing Brooke, whose flaws are evident, but whose charms are electrifying — and that’s what Tracy comes to narrate in the film’s devastatingly effective final scene. That the film seems to bury Brooke before ultimately praising her is a testament to the fact that Baumbach sees himself as a Tracy: he won’t make those mistakes, but he will never be such a romantic.

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