Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Lola Kirke, Greta Gerwig, Heather Lind and Michael Chernus
Running Time: 84 minutes
Release Date: August 14th
Having already released one of the year’s best comedies in While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach is back, this time with muse and parter, Greta Gerwig, sharing the writing duties on this year’s to-date best comedy, Mistress America.
Taking a class in Barnard College and desperately trying to get into the Moebius Literary Society, Tracy (Lola Kirke, sister of HBO’s Girls Jemima) is green to New York and on the advice of her mother, gets in touch with her soon-to-be, thirty-something stepsister Brooke (Gerwig). Living off Times Square, Brooke gives the illusion of someone who has it all figured; she’s a singer, restauranteur, spin instructor, interior decorator (she did a laser-hair removal clinic across the street from the Bowery Hotel), tutor and t-shirt designer — she’s rivalled only in jack-of-all-tradery by The Master‘s Lancaster Dodd. She also autodidactic, a word she taught herself. Tracy is taken with her, crashing at her commercial space apartment while also pitying her from afar while using her as the basis for an essay for a zine, observing “her youth had died and she was now dragging the decaying corpse.”
Gerwig and Baumbach have created the perfect vehicle for the former’s frantic comic genius. Brooke is not unlike their previous creation in Frances Ha. There’s a scatterbrain cluelessness about her but while that movie took time to ruminate on it, Mistress America rifles through a screwball act at such a breakneck speed, it’s played for nothing but laughs. Its frenetic pace is comparable to 30 Rock, in that doesn’t give you time to settle in between jokes before it’s reloaded and fired another. Re-watches guarantee to unearth gems missed the first time around.
A third-act descends into farce but it’s a glorious trip, structured like a one-act play that takes in preposterous business pitches, frozen weed and a group of pregnant women discussing Faulkner. Kirke and Gerwig bounce off each other marvellously, and are rounded out well by Brooke’s nemesis, the thief of her clothing line and fiancee, Mimi Claire (Heather Lind); Orange is the New Black‘s Michael Chernus as her erstwhile lover; and Tony (Matthew Shear), the on-off object of Tracy’s affection.
Baumbach rounds it out with a cracking score from Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham, that bounces on basslines and is soaked in 80s throwback synth. Library music choices are rare but wonderfully idiosyncratic — in one scene, Brooke is chewed out by a former school mate while Toto’s ‘Rosanna’ blares in the background.
At a brief 84 minutes, Mistress America, unlike another comedy released today, never outstays its welcome, in fact, just leaves you wanting more. It’s a great introduction to Kirke and one that hopefully sees Gerwig’s star rise and rise.