Mistress America

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 14, 2015

Lola Kirke stars in 'Mistress America'
Lola Kirke stars in 'Mistress America'  

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig collaborate as screenwriters on Baumbach's latest directorial effort, "Mistress America."

Gerwig stars as Brooke, the self-mythologizing 30-year-old stepsister-to-be of the film's protagonist, a college freshman named Tracy (Lola Kirke). "Self-mythologizing" might not be quite grand enough a term for Brooke; like a kaleidoscopic display, she's forever unfolding from herself, a torrent of ideas, plans, justifications, and advisories, unconcerned about consistency or the difference between truth and fable. Her personal history is as liable to revision -- and enhancement -- as her concepts for cutting-edge T-shirt designs, say, or her brainstorm for a female superhero. (That off-the-cuff super heroine would be the "Mistress America" of the film's title.) Brooke is nothing less than self-generating -- and, as she tells the awestruck Tracy, an autodidact. "That's one of the words I self-taught myself," she boasts.

It doesn't take Tracy long to start to see through Brooke's colorful but thin veneer, and once she susses out how Brooke's persona works, Tracy -- with an eye to gaining entree into a prestigious and stuffy college literary club -- starts writing a story about a barely fictionalized character she dubs "Meadow." Like Brooke, "Meadow" is a cornucopia of outlandish behavior and beautiful plans; and, like Brooke, she's on the far side of the sort of youthfulness that might excuse her naive extravagances and general impracticality.

Still, Tracy adores Brooke, and when Brooke's impending restaurant opening is threatened, she pitches in to help prop up her future stepsister's dream. This means enlisting the help of Tony (Matthew Shear), a fellow rejectee of the stuffy literary club and a former, but unfulfilled, romantic prospect. Along for the ride is Tony's jealous girlfriend, Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones). Their destination? The home of Dylan (Michael Chernus) and Mimi Claire (Heather Lind), now-married former friends Brooke believes owe her some cash -- and some karma. (Dylan was Brooke's fiancťe, and in her telling Mimi Claire stole him away, along with two cats and a lucrative fashion idea.)

Any other movie would write Brooke off as a fabulist, but this being Baumbach she's surprisingly not the money about half the time... and not necessarily the half of the time you might expect. The film does tend to spread its gossamer wings and lift a little too easily and frequently off the surface of reality (one sequence in particular starts feeling like one of those claustrophobic modern plays Brooke purports to hate; meantime, the entire movie carries the slightest whiff of Whit Stillman's stylistic leanings), but what the film anchors itself to is the genuine sisterly affection that grows between the two stepsisters-to-be.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.