SUNDANCE ’15: Mistress America

Sundance 2015 - Mistress America

MISTRESS AMERICA screened as part of the Premieres programme at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. For additional screen times, head here.

Full disclosure: I love Greta Gerwig. No, you don’t understand. I LOVE Greta Gerwig. We’re talking “I saw Arthur” levels of love her. So when her and Noah Baumbach collaborated on and co-wrote Frances Ha two years ago, my little heart leapt for joy—to the beat of David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” obviously. And now this most magical filmmaking duo are back with the laugh-out-loud hilarious, little bit silly, all bit charming Mistress America.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) has just moved to NYC for her first year at Columbia University. She’s a writer (she wears berets *nods knowingly*), but isn’t fitting in. She laments to her mother that NYC is kind of like a party where you don’t know anyone. (Girl, I know that feeling.) Her mother encourages her to connect with Brooke, the daughter of the man she’s marrying, but calling strangers is weird, so no thanks. She tries to join a fancy literary society (you know it’s fancy because they give you a briefcase) and makes a cool guy-friend named Tony and everything—even filing!—seems magical. But then Tony has a girlfriend, Nicolette, and it isn’t her and she doesn’t know what to do. Tracy decides it’s time to finally call Brooke.

ENTER THE MAGNIFICENT GRETA GERWIG. Arms spread, she slowly walks down the Times Square steps, proclaiming, “Welcome to the Great White Way!” A few more awkward steps for comedic timing and then they’re off on an adventure. Tracy and Brooke hit it off right away. Tracy finds Brooke completely fascinating and Brooke really enjoys being found fascinating. Brooke is a whirlwind of opinions and ideas and Inspiring Tweets. She has a million little side projects, but never seems to be going anywhere. She had a t-shirt idea once, but her mortal enemy Mimi Claire stole it from here (bitch!). She puts on glasses to go tutor kids in math (“X can be literally anything, that’s why it’s so interesting”), and is starting a restaurant with her Greek lover (it’ll be one of those cool places where you can eat, but also get your hair cut). Life is great and Tracy is finally feeling inspired to write again.

Of course all friendships have their hurdles and soon Tracy and Brooke find themselves facing theirs. Brooke is off to Greenwich to confront her mortal enemy Mimi Claire, but they don’t have a car so Tony drives, except Nicolette comes along too because she isn’t overly trusting of Tracy. The gang arrives to Mimi Claire’s (if they all go to the door together, it’ll look crazy and probably be more effective) and so begins one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. Ever. With pitch-perfect editing and an insane amount of fast dialogue, characters weave around the camera weaving through the house as tension and absurdity mounts. It’s effortless and effective, but you know how precisely it was choreographed and directed. Things found in this scene include: pregnant women, a literary book club, an apple bong, a game of chess, a Chipwich, $200,000, a nosy neighbour, two cats, a grand presentation, the realization that Tracy had been writing a more-honest-than-pleasant story about Brooke, and then the further realization that one of the pregnant women is a lawyer (well, a tax lawyer but whatever, it’s fine) and should represent Brooke when she sues Tracy.

And all of that happens in under ten minutes. Phew.

Mistress America plays like a romantic comedy, except it’s a bestie-type relationship between two women, which is totally refreshing and really nice to see play out on the big screen. Kirke and Gerwig have amazing chemistry. (I could watch them adventure around NYC forever, guys. Forever.) Kirke’s earnest, trying-to-find-her-place Brooke plays off perfectly to Gerwig’s blindingly energetic, all-over-the-place Brooke. And don’t worry: Gerwig has certainly played her share of charming, quirky New York girls, but this is a new one all together. She’s charming, but in that tired sort of way that you find in person you sort of wish would grow up already.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the supporting cast—all amazing! (In particular, Michael Chernus as Mimi Claire’s husband, Dylan.) If you liked Frances Ha, you’ll love this movie. If you didn’t like Frances Ha, you’ll also love this movie. It’s got the same spirit and magical je ne sais quoi as Frances Ha, but is more outwardly hilarious, with rapid-fire bits of dialogue paired with snappy editing. The words “zany” and “screwball” have been popping up in all reviews and either everyone reads the same thesaurus or those are the Official Descriptors for movies like this. Should I use those too to be cool and fit in?

Okay, Mistress America is the zany, screwball movie of the century! I feel so dirty now.

(Oh, and since no Baumbach x Gerwig film would be complete without a Hot Chocolate song, “You Could’ve Been A Lady” was blasting as the credits rolled. )



Siân Melton is covering Sundance for us live from Park City, Utah. Read about her other work, including her Toronto-based film series The MUFF Society, below.


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