Tracy, a lonely college freshman in New York, is rescued from her solitude by her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke, an adventurous gal about town who entangles her in alluringly mad schemes. Mistress America is a comedy about dream-chasing, score-settling, makeshift families, and cat-stealing.
There is a scene that Tracy is walking on campus with lighted trees on the background. It is actually on the College Walk of Columbia University. And those trees will not be decorated with lights until mid December for the Christmas. But the story happens before Thanksgiving. See more »
Baumbach and Gerwig find a new way into the '20-something in New York' story
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are at it again, "it" being what it means to be a 20- something in New York City. In "Mistress America," however, the lens and perspective shifts away from the character you'd expect a movie like to this to intimately follow (Gerwig's interesting, ambitious, never-boring Brooke) and instead observes her from an outsider's perspective (Tracy, played by Lola Kirke).
Tracy is instead the main character, a Barnard freshman studying literature and writing, trying to make her way through that formidable (and familiar) landscape. Inspiration strikes, however, when she meets Brooke, her future step-sister. Brooke is around 30, and she's been through the grinder both personally and professionally. She is an innovator who always has big ideas, and Tracy uses her life as the basis of a short story that she hopes will get her into the school's prestigious lit magazine.
Things get particularly interesting when Brooke finds herself locked out of her apartment one day and learns that her boyfriend has pulled all his financial support out of a restaurant they were just about to open together and she seeks a psychic for advice on where to turn next.
Through this blossoming relationship between Tracy and Brooke we observe the typical indie film "portrait of a Millennial" in a way that both mythologizes it (evidenced by Tracy's story/perception of Brooke) and makes it hit home. Brooke is quirky and her life is a melodrama, but it also feels very real. Baumbach and Gerwig's previous collaboration, "Frances Ha," also struck this seemingly contradictory chord of authenticity and whimsy. When there is a dissonance, it's softened by the knowledge that there's such emotional truth at the core of what they're doing.
Another way of putting it is that Baumbach and Gerwig aren't so interested in plot points and what happens. At less than 90 minutes, this movie about a relationship between a younger and older 20-something is not trying to show you something you've never seen before. What they do care about is the trajectory of the relationships between characters. It's hard not to see a piece of yourself in the characters, especially if you're of a similar age, and that holds our attention enough that "Mistress America" doesn't fall apart, even when it's not especially compelling.
"Mistress America" also tends to be be philosophical and angsty. The level of intellectual conversation is to a degree that rarely happens in real life, let alone in these perfect scene-length snippets, but again, like other parts of the film that gravitate closer to being over-the-top, the creative choice to lean that way comes from a strong and earnest desire to explore very relevant themes and ideas.
Frankly, Baumbach and Gerwig could tell a hundred different stories about coming of age in your 20s or 30s in a big city and I'd watch (especially at such a reasonable runtime). But even if you don't think you could, the effort they make to explore a unique "relationship" between two women in "Mistress America" and cast light on this familiar film from a new angle makes this particularly story worthwhile.
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