Reviews for Friends 22#: Mistress America

Riding high on the success of his previous release (While We Were Young, his highest grossing film to date), Noah Baumbach brings us something with decided bounce. Ebullient NYC iconography abounds. There is homage to Holly Golightly’s fire escape. Crackling hot pink neon and a Hot Chocolate hit announce the end credits. And a self-consciously cool retro-feel soundtrack lends an ironic cheerfulness that persists alongside the characters’ neuroses.

Mistress America is a breathless love story of sorts – two women in awe and fear of each other, fraught with their own anxieties and infatuated with themselves. Tracy (Lola Kirke, fresh from her scene-stealing turn in Gone Girl) finds herself alone and bored in New York. A freshman at Barnard College, she is largely disliked by her peers and apathetic about making friends. As she struggles to find her place in the city, Tracy’s mother suggests she get in touch with her soon-to-be-stepsister, 30-year-old Manhattanite Brooke (Greta Gerwig). Cue a charming entrance from Gerwig - a deliciously clumsy, painfully drawn out totter down a flight of Times Square stairs - setting the standard for an effervescent performance throughout.

The two hit it off immediately. Brooke, although insufferable - with Gerwig channelling Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in Clueless with the relentless chatter, preppy tweed jacket and all - is everything Tracy wants to be. Balancing a glamorous and independent life as an interior designer, social media maven, spin class teacher and budding restaurateur (“It’s a restaurant, but also where you cut hair”), Brooke clearly relishes the esteem in which the teenager holds her.

At first Tracy is wide eyed, buckling under the pressure of which pasta to buy for her new friend and coming back with four kinds. She is uncharacteristically cruel to her one college friend. But cracks soon start to show under the façade of Brooke’s endless endeavours, and Tracy is quick to exploit.

The plot takes a surreal descent into farce when – on the advice of a medium – the girls take a trip to Connecticut in a mission to confront Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind), an old friend who stole Brooke’s one good idea, along with her fiancée. The wealthy pair now live together in a swanky but creepy hillside pad straight out of The Shining, and the film becomes one long, chaotic set piece. With multiple new characters contributing to the theatre, everyone rattles around the rooms of the apartment in a staged dance as Brooke desperately tries to convince her old friends to stump up the money for her restaurant project, and Tracy’s betrayal of her idol is revealed to all.

This is the second time Baumbach and Gerwig have co-written a feature and the team clearly works – a testing plot turn that could have fallen flat is pulled off convincingly thanks to electric dialogue, brilliantly delivered by all. Fans of America’s golden couple won’t be disappointed - the tragicomic anxieties around ageing and ambition are cleverly observed and painfully explored. Plus it’s really bloody funny.

The leads are both sensational. Kirke is simply mesmerising as the sullen, mumbling novice. Gerwig, throwing herself into character with skill and aplomb as ever, delivers a master-class in physical comedy - with Lind the perfect foil with her faultless clipped hysteria.

Yes, it’s pretentious. Yes, it’s irritatingly knowing – at points the film feels like an attack in cultural referencing. But this try hard self-consciousness serves to intensify the film’s neuroticism and regular injections of laugh-out-loud moments pepper the avalanche of urbane wit. Overall, Mistress America – like Brooke – has “got moxy.”

 
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