Noah Baumbach’s latest character drama is a slender abstraction in search of a meaningful narrative. This isn’t a story but a series of witticisms strung together as entertainment. Actress Lola Kirke is Tracy Fishko, a drab artsy college student. She is starting her freshman year at Barnard, that oh-so-selective liberal arts college for women in Manhattan. She has no friends, flirts unsuccessfully with Tony, a potential boyfriend turned buddy, and is rejected by the school’s elite literary society. Then her life takes a turn for the better when she calls her soon-to-be step-sister. Brooke Cardenas is a bubbly Times Square resident who “does everything and nothing”. That’s according to Tracy’s assessment. She wavers between spin-class instructor, math tutor, freelance interior designer and whatever else strikes her fancy. Brooke is larger than life, a gal about town. Our tale centers around their night of unbridled whimsy. Tracy seems to idolize her. Or does she?
These individuals don’t talk to each other, but rather at each other knowing full well we the audience are eavesdropping on their affected conversation. These aren’t people as we know them, but models of pseudo-intellectual posturing. A chum photographs Brooke in a club and she loudly proclaims “Must we document ourselves all the time? Must we?” The sheer volume at which she makes this declaration ostensibly so that everyone within earshot can applaud her specious display of modesty. She never stops, constantly in motion, incessantly talking. On several occasions I was compelled to simply shake this woman free from her all-encompassing fog of self-interest. It’s inexhaustible. “Could you please just shut up for 2 seconds?! Seriously, please.” Brooke never stops to take a breath for fear that she might actually hear something other than the sound of her own voice.
Good grief, Brooke Cardenas is incredibly self-absorbed. You’ll snicker. You’ll smile occasionally, but the sum total adds precious little value. Noah Baumbach has been making movies for 2 decades now. Mistress America is his 9th directorial effort and his 3rd collaboration with Greta Gerwig. They’re a couple in real life and I will admit the relationship has actually made his characters more pleasant. Brooke has a sunny disposition at least, but she’s too self-indulgent to truly embrace. The whole shebang climaxes (a most charitably chosen verb) over an act of betrayal. The acrimonious finale takes place in the upscale home of Brooke’s ex-fiance (Michael Chernus) and his wife, Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind). She was once Brooke’s best friend, now mortal enemy. A coterie of supporting players present weigh in on Brooke and Tracy’s friendship. The mixed message of the piece leaves the viewer in a state of flux. Is Brooke life-affirming? Is Brooke a disorganized mess? She’s got moxie, sure, but inherently flawed as well. So what’s the point? To worship at the altar of an individual who is shamelessly narcissistic apparently.