Mistress America ★★★★

Earlier this year, Noah Baumbach released While We're Young which also centered on how a person can co-opt another life to use for the sake of art. Whereas, in that film, it zeroed in on the protagonist's narcissism. Mistress America does so through defiant humanity.

I feel that is more rewarding.

Lonely and impressionable 18-year-old Tracy Fishco (Lola Kirke), has been rejected by her school's prestigious—and hilariously snobby, literary society. She sets out to meet Brooke Cardinas (Greta Gerwig), an ambitious and screwy free-spirit, who's father is marrying Tracy's mother, and so...a future step-sister bond is formed between the two as Tracy realizes that the worldly excitement of Brooke could make as terrific material for a story. The story, "Mistress America", derives from a superhero TV show which Brooke once had but never managed to follow through.

It's one of the many rapturous and amusing gags in this screwball comedy that doesn't waste a single sentence in its brisk 84 minute runtime.

Gerwig gives a towering performance as this charismatic, energetic and egocentric flake-of-a-woman who's ambitions are somewhat motivating. Her busy lifestyle as an aerobics instructor and interior decorator is also squashed by her idea as a restaurant owner (a place that would also have an art gallery and hair salon!) and it works as a wonderfully loose narrative when this idea comes crashing down after Brooke's never-seen boyfriend/financial backer pulls out.

So, after Brooke has been deeply left in debt, the duo concoct a plan to get the money from her rich ex-boyfriend Dylan (Michael Chernus) and her former best friend Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) who stole her fiancée and cats! In order to travel from NYC to Greenwich, Tracy gets her college friend she's infatuated with Tony (Michael Shear) to drive them as his ridiculously possessive girlfriend Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones) tags along.

The next step, raiding the highest echelon of Baumbach's work, is a brilliant rapid-fire set-piece in a Connecticut mansion. It's beautifully extended—a hectic ballet of ex-acquaintances firing zingers in pitch-perfect choreography and timing. Much humour is made from an uptight neighbour, a pregnant woman, the college students and the old flames from Brooke's past (Lind does a great prickly precariousness and Shear is just a bubbly riot to be around.)

No less impressive—yet more modest, is Kirke, who's beautiful observations on Gerwig are shown through rueful eyes and a sense of understanding. A sharp turn of interrogation is made in the Connecticut home and her unapologetic rigidness to the berating of her fellow peers is admirable. The fact it maintains a likability—and more important, an empathy towards her, gives Mistress America a heart.

This continuously wonderful string from Baumbach places him as a nex-gen Woody Allen. The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha still maintain that acerbic top-tier level for me, but hey, Mistress America settles in quite close. A whirlwind piece of chic cinema from beginning to end.

Nick Vass liked this review