“It’s weird that someone who studies rocks can be so into Jesus.”
It seems that Noah Baumbach needed to make Frances Ha and While We’re Young in order to create the brilliance of Mistress America. The most successful features of each film have been folded together into his latest creation that again utilises the on and off-screen energy and intelligence of the wonderful Greta Gerwig.
The married couple have again scripted a feature so precisely accurate about the thoughts of young adults and specifically, the privileged, self-involved New York masses. The satire of Frances Ha and While We’re Young features strongly in Mistress America, but it all feels more developed this time round. Whilst the film satirises similar ideas to Frances Ha and HBO’s Girls (progress, impulsiveness, independence, free-spirits), the satire feels more precise and stinging than its predecessors.
The inefficiency of the privileged, self-involved New York middle classes is shown at almost every turn; most scenes target the triviality of their actions and problems. Gerwig’s character is again the epitome of this inefficiency, acting as Frances if she hadn’t gone through the Frances Ha experience. Her character is a few years older than Frances, but certainly no wiser. Her energy and spice for life is utterly infectious, but also poisons all that around her. Her character looks at once so assured, despite the inconspicuous absence of her fiancé, but soon her glamorised, romanticised life is debunked by reality.
Mistress America is a better and smarter film than any of Baumbach’s past but this leads it to feel less likable as a result. Unlike in Frances Ha or While We’re Young, Mistress America decides not to keep us one step away from the eye of the storm. Whilst the real delusion was focussed around Adam Driver’s co-star roles in Frances and While We’re Young, the delusion is always on screen in the form of Gerwig’s Brooke or the central performance of Lola Kirke as Tracy. As Tracy is so lost in herself and proceeds to value the opinion of those people who are only poisonous towards her, one struggles to attach themselves to any character. Frances and the ‘mature’ couple are both mislead, but are always endearing, whilst Tracy isn’t. Maybe it is that the satire is so overwhelming that she has to also be the face of folly before her redemption, but this leaves you somewhere unknown with nobody to cling onto.
However, this fails to lead Mistress America away from excellence. It is a smart, funny satire that surpasses Frances Ha and While We’re Young in its quality and its film-making. Once again the soundtrack dictates the film’s pace and narrates the emotion in every scene. The characters are well-rounded and spot-on portrayals of the selfish, naïve youths they portray.
Like their characters, Baumbach and Gerwig have probably thought to themselves that they are both geniuses, and would like to have skipped to a time where everyone knows it. It seems that with this attempt that time has come.
Header courtesy of Fox Searchlight. Images courtesy of i-d vice and web-dl respectively.