Mistress America

Mistress America photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgNoah 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.


21 Responses to “Mistress America”

  1. Good review.

    Mark, I have a question for you. You have said that you review every movie you watch on your website. So, why haven’t you reviewed Schindler’s List or The Godfather ? Would love to hear your opinion about them.


  2. Okay, I’ll pass!


  3. Too bad. I’ve liked a lot of Baumbach’s work, particularly The Squid and the Whale. His previous film While We’re Young was also good


  4. Nice review. I loved Squid and the Whale, but have hated every Noah Baumbach film I’ve seen since.


  5. Mark, in your 2010 Best Movies List you have placed David Fincher’s The Social Network at the first position and Toy Story 3 at the second position. But you have rated The Social network 4.5/5 while Toy Story 3 got 5/5. Then how did come at 2nd position ?


  6. I”m mostly amused by the recurring theme of you wanting to physically shake Greta Gerwig’s characters of their present state of mind. In ‘Frances Ha’ I remember u saying something to the effect of you wanting to shake her out of her overwhelming indecisiveness. Here it seems to be shake her so she hushes up. I’m starting to notice a pattern and it’s both hilarious and telling. Mostly telling, you have to kind of dig unlikable characters or at the least, difficult ones, to enjoy a Noah Baumbach movie. And given my luke-warm response to While We’re Young I’m super on the fence about this one. .


    • You’ve made an extremely keen observation. I had no idea that this “shake the character to her senses” mentality was a pattern present in both of my reviews. That’s hilarious and oh so very telling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Baumbach is almost obsessed with these kinds of nervous, neurotic characters. Kind of like how Woody Allen is obsessed with sexually frustrated people. I don’t know, that was just an impression I remembered from that review and it struck me again in this one. It seems like I’m one of those same obsessive, neurotic people for remembering stuff like that. Haha


  7. I agree with you, they talked more, at each other. I liked it, but they weren’t portraying “real” people. Everything seemed too scripted. 3 stars


  8. I feel like normally you’re a fan of Baumbach, so Mistress America must be a weak narrative for you to be as lukewarm as you seem about it Mark. I could easily see myself growing equally frustrated with these two characters who talk at each other with their pseudo-intellectual posturing. They’re the kind of people I’d love to shake too. Although I get the sense we might get into trouble for that, so it’s probably good they’re fictional characters separated from us by a screen. Haha.


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