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Overstreet

Mistress America (2015)

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Judging from my Twitter peeps at Sundance, Mistress America looks like a big hit. Several people said it's his funniest comedy and that the Baumbach/Gerwig chemistry is getting stronger.

 

I can't wait.

 

Here's a review.

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Alissa Wilkinson, Sundance Diary, Day 4:

"... Noah Baumbach's movies -- Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale, Kicking and Screaming, Margot at the Wedding, the not-yet-released While We're Young (which I saw at NYFF and loved) -- are 100% white-people-problems movies. But those problems mostly stand-in as a cipher for larger things that plague a lot of people here in the late capitalist twenty-first century, like general ennui and existential crises and family dysfunction. The fact that these problems are acutely experienced and catalogued mostly by people with the privilege, means, and leisure to do so doesn't mean they are not worth making a movie about. And Baumbach always gently and sometimes affectionately skewers his characters, which means, in turn, he lets the mirror reflect us back to ourselves, our foolish griping about our problems coming into relief.

Mistress America is his second collaboration with Greta Gerwig, the mumblecore star turned art-house darling with whom he wrote Frances Ha. This one stars Lola Kirke (who you can see in the very fun Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle) as Tracy, a college freshman at what is basically NYU, trying to figure out her way in New York—though that sounds very Girls, and this is very not. Tracy is a writer (of course) and kind of cool, but not in the way that usually works when you're 18. Her mom is getting remarried and suggests she call the daughter of her fiance, who is around 30 and lives in New York City. She finally does, and gets swept into a whirlwind named Brooke (Gerwig), a loveable free spirit with style, a pretty short attention span, and a boundless amount of affection.

I think the film can read as a fluffy screwball comedy, and at the Q&A after the film Baumbach said he had in mind the '30s and '40s Howard Hawks screwball comedies. That shows up in the rapid-fire jokes, the slightly mannered dialogue from people who are ever-so-slightly wittier than they actually would be in life, and an assortment of set pieces. But the other connection interested me more: Baumbach mentioned the genre of film from the '80s and '90s that I think of as the more lighthearted heirs to Brideshead Revisited: working-class person gets introduced into bourgeois society, falls in love with the whole aura of it, and then learns some tricky lessons. In this case, Brooke is only bourgeois in the sense that she has a nice apartment (though it's a commercial loft) and sometimes parties with the band, but she does have to work for a living, too.

Because it's an heir to Brideshead, I start thinking about the spiritual dilemma at the core of that story—who are you really in love with? and is that love actually for something beyond humans and human things?—and so a little of what Mistress America does is tap into the aching longing everyone has for life to just work, for things to be beautiful and full of love and home. And since it couches it in a very, very funny movie, I'm already looking forward to watching it again. (It's been picked up by Fox Searchlight.)"

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A good 5-star review from David Ehrlich at Time Out:

 

Mistress America steamrolls through its mesmerizingly dense running time with such joyous violence that its themes only bubble up to the surface in retrospect, the heart of the movie identified like the dental records of a body that’s been burned beyond all recognition. This is the second script that Baumbach has co-written with Gerwig (his creative and romantic partner), their collaboration adding an extra wrinkle to the film’s obsession with what we borrow from the people around us in a time when everyone is bleeding into one another. 

Edited by Anodos

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Guys, guys... Mistress America.

 

That is all. (Embargoed.)

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A colleague of mine wondered why there was so much '80s music in this film when the main character (an 18-year-old) hadn't even been born yet then. Of course, the director is 45 (and his first film, 20 years ago, was about guys in their early 20s who didn't want to leave college even though they had graduated)...

 

Looking back and seeing Alissa's review, I am not at all surprised that Baumbach said he was riffing on Howard Hawks. That name came to my mind during a few of the rapid-fire dialogue exchanges.

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So far, I haven't come across any reviewer noting that the lead characters' names give you plenty: Brooke (as in babbling, wandering, rushing?) and Tracy (as in... she's tracing Brooke?). Maybe it's just too obvious a detail to mention, but I like it.

Edited by Overstreet

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This movie is in theaters. And I hardly know anybody who has seen it. Anthony Lane compares this to Woody Allen's A-game, and he's not wrong. There are more point-scoring jokes per minute in this comedy than in anything since... well, Frances Ha, probably.

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 There are more point-scoring jokes per minute in this comedy than in anything since... well, Frances Ha, probably.

 

They should have put some of them in the trailer.

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The trailer weirdly builds to one of the more awkward and unsuccessful moments in the film.

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This movie is in theaters. And I hardly know anybody who has seen it. Anthony Lane compares this to Woody Allen's A-game, and he's not wrong. There are more point-scoring jokes per minute in this comedy than in anything since... well, Frances Ha, probably.

It opens in my area this weekend, and I'm seeing it the first day I'm free (which won't be until Sunday or Monday).

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My brother Aren thought it was Baumbach's best film. He loved it. 

 

It opens in my town Sept. 4. I'm looking forward to it.

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On a first viewing, I don't think it's better than Frances Ha, but this is easily one of Baumbach's top three films.

I wrote some first thoughts at Letterboxd

Everyone knows the classic storyline in which an awkward protagonist ends up feeling betrayed by the unique newfound friend who gave the awkward protagonist a new confident outlook on life, because that friend, who had been idolized, makes an asinine mistake. What this film presupposes is: what if the awkward protagonist is the one who makes the asinine mistake?

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On a first viewing, I don't think it's better than Frances Ha, but this is easily one of Baumbach's top three films.

Agreed. My first viewing, I thought I'd prefer Mistress America. Second viewing, no... Frances is a better-crafted film with a more fully-realized lead character. Mistress America's Brook is a variation on Frances that isn't quite as memorable, and some of the scenes really strain to reach for laughs (like the scene given so much spotlight in the trailer). But I love them both, and they're up there with Kicking and Screaming as my three favorite Baumbachs.

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I haven't seen anyone else mention this yet, and IMDb doesn't even include this yet, but did anyone notice the scene when Tracy walks up to the blonde woman, mistaking her for Brooke? According to the credits, that "fake Brooke" is played by Mickey Sumner, who in Frances Ha played Sophie, who's "basically the same person" as Frances.

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After about 15 minutes, my friend and colleague Neil Morris leaned over and said:

I think I figured this movie out...it's a female version of Fight Club, right?

He was right, of course, though the movie appeared not to know it. That said, I enjoyed the movie a lot more after he made that connection.

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I haven't seen anyone else mention this yet, and IMDb doesn't even include this yet, but did anyone notice the scene when Tracy walks up to the blonde woman, mistaking her for Brooke? According to the credits, that "fake Brooke" is played by Mickey Sumner, who in Frances Ha played Sophie, who's "basically the same person" as Frances.

Wow. That's fantastic.

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Trend of the year: Early OMD songs featured in movies. ("Enola Gay" in Ex Machina, "Souvenir" in Mistress America [possibly an Antonioni reference? -- MA used this same song in Identification of a Woman -- Baumbach also shows a poster for Le Amiche on Tony's wall])

Can't wait for the use of "Genetic Engineering" in The Force Awakens come December. 

 

 

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The third act of every Noah Baumbach movie is about artistic ethics. 

I was kind of bored with a lot of the early set up scenes, but the sequence at the Connecticut house just about makes up for it. 

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