Take a Drink: whenever Gerwig says something off-putting and/or pretentious
That… is pretty much all you need, but-
Do a Shot: whenever you hear the title
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Frances Ha delivered the title of New York Hipster Indie Princess to Greta Gerwig, and apparently it’s one that she’s loathe to relinquish. Since its 2012 premiere, she’s courted a female version of How I Met Your Mother, realized that was a terrible idea, showed up in Portlandia (of course), Eden- a pretty awesome-sounding French EDM flick, The Humbling- a pretty terrible sounding latter day Barry Levinson/Al Pacino project, and then high-tailed it back to that NYC wheelhouse for the upcoming Maggie’s Plan and a reunion with Noah Baumbach in Mistress America.
Hey, that’s this movie!
In Mistress America, Gerwig actually plays second fiddle to Lola Kirke (sister of Girls‘s Jemima Kirke), a freshman writing student in search of a little direction who thinks she finds it in her glamorous soon to be stepsister, who’s gregarious, over the top, and even lives in Times Square (in a commercially zoned makeshift apartment)!
You already know whether you like this movie. Does Lena Dunham make your skin crawl? Does your eye go spastic when you hear “Quirky” or “Hipster”? Does the name ‘Wes Anderson’ blur your vision in meticulous, pastel-colored, perfectly-centered patterns?
Does Adam Driver in an apron give you weird erections and crippling self-hate? Just me?
However, if you, like me, have none of those problems, you’ll likely find something to appreciate about Mistress America. Kirke and Gerwig are most definitely Girls who would fit into Girls, delivering a perfect balance of oblivious pretension, desperate pathos, small cruelties, and ace comedic timing. Gerwig’s doing what she does excellently, but Kirke is the real breakout, shades of Elizabeth Olsen, but hopefully going on to much better roles.
Baumbach has really found his groove, combining his Anderson-esque stagey framing and ace deployment of diagetic music with cutesy, clever, and sharp dialogue (also courtesy of Gerwig). The rat-a-tat comedy reaches vaudevillian levels in the final housebound setpiece, which would likely play just as well on (or off?) Broadway as the screen.
The plot rushes forward quickly enough for you not to notice the fact not much is really happening. However, it’s too quick to properly set up the characters and their dilemmas in a way that drives much conflict. The farce overwhelms the drama, which isn’t a bad thing until the film tries to inject some dramatic weightiness late in the film, which the plot simply can’t support.
Perhaps all the critical accolades are working against it in this way, but it’s hard not to also find the message of the film wispy and inconsequential. Frances Ha was able to pack in enough insight to live up to its reputation regardless of its meanderings and pretensions, but Mistress America isn’t as capable.
Your life must be so hard…
If you like Frances Ha or many of the rich girls behaving badly in NYC indie flicks and TV shows that dot the current pop culture landscape (as I do), you’ll enjoy the awkward comedy of Mistress America. It just has about as much to say about the human condition as any of them, which, after dozens of attempts… ain’t much ultimately.