“[T]his is almost uniformly Gerwig’s picture”

by Steve Pulaski

When Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck was released in late July 2015, nearly every entertainment publication raced their columnists out to get an interview with or write a thinkpiece about leading actress Amy Schumer. Schumer, who had become a hit thanks to her raunchy Comedy Central program, found herself and her humor branching out past the confines of a twenty-two minute program on a still-censored network to the film world, with Apatow, arguably the biggest name in comedy right now, nonetheless. Critics and audiences were hailing Schumer as the queen of comedy for the 2010’s and praising her work as if it was the most original and inventive thing in film.

While Schumer undoubtedly has her strengths, and Trainwreck is a solid film, Greta Gerwig has proven she could use “the queen of comedy” title too. Gerwig’s brand of humor isn’t as obvious and raunchy as Schumer’s, and it’s more bent on eminently quotable lines, an effervescent, uncontrollable personality, and impossibly lovable wit and quirky millennial idealism. Gerwig has proven her strengths in the terrific Hannah Takes the Stairs and the romantic Nights and Weekends, both of which directed by Joe Swanberg, but someone who knows how to exploit her talents is Noah Baumbach.

Mistress America
Directed by
Noah Baumbach
Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Seth Barrish
Release Date
14 August 2015
Steve’s Grade: A-

Baumbach’s Frances Ha proved this and his latest film, Mistress America, which can more-or-less be seen as a followup to that film, continues to emphasize Gerwig’s unprecedented comedic gift and Baumbach’s continuing talents to simultaneously develop the people of New York City and satirize them. We are immediately introduced to Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke), a lonely college freshman in New York City, who states that college is like being at a party where you don’t know anyone (preach). Tracy’s mother will be remarrying this Thanksgiving, and the man she’s marrying has a daughter a bit older than Tracy named Brooke (Greta Gerwig).

After being lonely for far too long, Tracy phones Brooke, and when Brooke arrives, we can see Tracy wondered why she didn’t phone sooner. Brooke is a force of nature, zippy, carefree, and full of idealistic, youthful tendencies. She has a plethora of ideas, most of which she tweets about or voices to her friends, and in addition to be an autodidact (a word she self-taught herself), she’s a very self-aware person, claiming to know everything there is to know about herself. In the midst of having a lot of fun, Brooke wants to open a restaurant in New York City, predicated on having a downhome feel. This, like most of her ideas, comes out on a whim in an attempt to rebuild her life when her self-described “nemesis” and ex-best friend Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) stole her fiancee Dylan (Michael Chernus), her idea for a t-shirt company, and then her two twin cats. With that, Brooke, Tracy, and Tracy’s friends Tony (Matthew Shear) and Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones) take a road trip to Connecticut in order to get Mamie-Claire and Dylan, who are both very wealthy, to invest in the restaurant and help build her dreams up after stealing her’s.

We get the feeling that through the perky, hyperactive exterior of Brooke is a soul set up to fail if she keeps her inherent positivity up any longer. As stated, Brooke has a plethora of ideas, many of which see sits on or starts but doesn’t finish. She doesn’t have the commitment or drive to follow through on what she starts, so she continuously finds herself in a cycle of excitement, momentary discomfort, then excitement all over again, like a dog chasing its tale. It’s the underlying sadness to Baumbach’s otherwise unfathomably lively picture.

Some of the film’s finest moments come through during the second act of the film, running about thirty minutes and taking place entirely inside the spacious home of Mamie-Claire and Dylan. The result is an amalgamation of characters with different plans, ideas, and purposes (some of them lacking the latter component, however) clashing and delivering rapid-fire, breakneck dialog that makes this film just as funny as any other comedy we’ve seen this year. Most of Baumbach’s films can be very grounded, or, at the very least, structured in a conventional style (consider his last picture While We’re Young, released in April of this year, which seems tighter in plot and situational occurrences when compared to this film), but with Gerwig as a cowriter, caution gets thrown in the wind and the two create a zany and uproariously funny film.

Finally, Baumbach has a way of profiling New Yorkers in a serious manner, showing their struggles, most of which because of their own personalities, and their optimism, whilst simultaneously satirizing them and their situations. “While We’re Young” was essentially a film depicting the generation gap of baby boomers and millennials, though the millennials in that film were quirky to the point of being self-parody. Baumbach finds a way to do this in a believable manner, where you’re not looking at the film as a parody, but an off-kilter portrayal of the new generation. As silly and sometimes completely asinine as Brooke and her ideas can be, you believe her as a character because Baumbach won’t let her completely go off the rails.

This is tricky screenwriting and Baumbach never seems to get credit for all he can do with his films. Mistress America may not be his tightest picture (contrarily, it may be his loosest), but it may be his most consistently funny, which says a lot coming off of While We’re Young. Above all, while being a showcase for him and his talents, this is almost uniformly Gerwig’s picture, who needs to be crowned, or at least praised heavily, sometime soon.