Writer/director Noah Baumbach and writer/actress Greta Gerwig have great chemistry (apparently both on and off screen.) Mistress America is their second collaboration, the first being the wonderful 2013 comedy Frances Ha. Both are set in New York and both star Ms. Gerwig as a lovable, yet kooky woman trying to find her place in the world. In the very funny Mistress America, she plays Brooke whose father is about to get married to Tracy’s (Lola Kirke) mom. It really is Tracy’s story, but Brooke is the big character that animates her life. Tracy is having a hard freshman year at Barnard, and her mother wants her to meet her soon to be step-sister who is 10 years older and lives in the city, so she calls her and is immediately drawn into Brooke’s very dramatic life.
Brooke lives in an industrial loft in Times Square, she parties hard, she teaches spin classes, sings in a band, and she’s got plans for a restaurant (that is also a hair salon, bodega and community center!) She is happy to take Tracy under her wing, and Tracy is mesmerized by her and is finally enjoying her time in New York City. But the big dream comes crashing down. Brooke’s Brazilian boyfriend dumps her, pulling his investment out of the restaurant, and she’s locked out of her loft. But of course she has a new plan to save herself, and before you know it they are in a mansion in Connecticut, along with a couple of reticent friends who drove them there, trying to get one of Brooke’s ex-boyfriends and his wife who was once her BFF to invest in her restaurant/bodega/salon/community center.
The smart dialogue is what makes this film one of the funniest I’ve seen in a while — not necessarily laugh out loud, but clever and silly and often the kind of thing that you wish popped into your head at just that right moment, but never does. And Gerwig’s Brooke is such a wonderful character who you cannot take your eyes off of, who knows that she isn’t the smartest one in the room, but is trying her hardest to be the most interesting. Lola Kirke’s Tracy holds her own as the smarter, younger one through whose eyes we are seeing Brooke, and who is also just trying to find her place in the world. Mistress America is a wonderful little character-driven screwball comedy that you might not remember next year, but while you watch it, you’re thoroughly entertained. See it!