Mistress America is the name of a short story one of the two main characters, Tracy (Kirke), is writing during her first year of college. It’s about a new friend she has just met, Brooke (Gerwig), who will eventually be her half sister when their two parents get married. The twist is that Brooke is unaware of Tracy’s using her as a main character in her story. This turns out to be a big deal toward the end, which makes me think that Noah Baumbach (director) and Greta Gerwig (writers) intended this to be a point of discussion, not only during the film but later among viewers as well. He has been writing and directing for years (While We’re Young, Frances Ha, Greenberg, The Squid and the Whale), sometimes with her collaboration, and presumably they’ve had to deal with this issue in their own lives.
In this comedy/drama, Tracy is having a pretty miserable time in her first year of college in New York City, and when her mother urges her to get in touch with her fiancé’s daughter, Brooke, who is older and has been in the city for a while, Tracy follows through. The two meet and hit it off right away; Tracy is fascinated with vivacious Brooke, and sees her as having all the personal qualities she herself lacks and wishes she had. Interestingly, as time goes on, she “adopts” some of these qualities and becomes more self-assured and confident in the process.
Brooke has numerous of money-making projects on the burner at any one time, the most important at the moment being that of opening up a restaurant with her fiancé (whom we never meet because he’s overseas) to be called “Mom’s.” To do this, they need a number of investors, which introduces all the main characters into the plot, including one of Brooke’s old friends, Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) and her husband, Dylan (Michael Chernus) whom Brooke was previously engaged to. Brooke has been left feeling that Mamie-Claire and Dylan both “owe” her, and since they have money, she decides to visit them—along with an entourage of Tracy, Tracy’s friend who has a car, and his clingy girlfriend. Particularly when they’re all together in this luxurious home, the movie turns into a stage play, which might be a drawback to some, but didn’t bother me.
Mistress America is primarily a comedy showing the quirks and foibles between couples and friends and common sources of conflict such as jealousy, competition, ownership, and attention. Many will enjoy the dialog, but it came across as too artificial and glib at times, and the thought occurred to me that people just don’t talk that way in real life. Nevertheless, the film will appeal to many for a light, enjoyable evening out and the possibility for some serious discussion afterwards.
Be cautious in making short stories out of the lives of people you know.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland