Film Review: Mistress America

I said in my review of American Ultra that I am naturally drawn to Jesse Eisenberg only to be constantly disappointed by the end result. The same is somewhat true with director Noah Baumbach. I will actively watch his films: The Squid & The Whale, Greenberg, While We’re Young, only to be left deflated by a story that doesn’t seem as quirky, or as interesting as I expected or believed it would be.

Even though they haven’t worked too much together, in my mind I view Greta Gerwig as Noah Baumbach’s muse. It’s a combination that instantly grabs my attention because together they created Frances Ha, a film about a character I hated but who left such a lasting impression on me I named it my third favourite film of 2014. So when I heard they were collaborating again on Mistress America, it was guaranteed I’d seek it out. Hoping, expecting, that together they’d again provide something to equal my memories of Frances Ha.

Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig - Mistress America

Noah Baumbach isn’t “mainstream” enough to really get a major multiplex run, so I’ve had to wait for my local independent cinema to put on a screening. As a result, while I saw reviews about the film, they’ve long since left my memory, and for whatever reason I avoided the trailer. I, therefore, had no idea what Mistress America was about, and therefore, what to expect or what type of story I was about to get.

The first thing that quickly became apparent was that this feels very much like Frances Ha in it’s ingredients and construction. The story is obviously different but the natural dialogue heavy style of Gerwig’s writing and Baumbach’s Wes Anderson inspired madness production are once again combined to create a film that intelligently insults you, never feeling like it really pauses for breathe. Everything runs at 100mph and an octave higher than it probably needs to. Really, there were times when I just wanted to put my hands over my ears, shut my eyes and just take 10 seconds to relax. It never stops to let you absorb what’s going on.

Lola Kirke - Mistress America

This constant barrage means that I have absolutely no idea what Mistress America is truly about. It’s left me completely perplexed. It’s very obvious it’s not a linear story. There isn’t a beginning, middle and end. Instead it’s a commentary, a metaphor, but what exactly it’s saying I have no idea. It could be about reality, about growing up, about consumerism, about following your dreams, about life, about happiness, about a million other themes that could equally be argued about being hinted at. This lack of clarity as to its actual meaning meant I never really got into the film, it was just a wall of slight screeching noise that I constantly struggled to engage with, understand, or sadly, on occasions hear. I’m not sure if it was a sound level out of balance, or character accent mumbling, but not being about to hear the odd word or phrase just added to the difficult in deciphering the story.

While the film may drown in dialogue, it is cleverly written and the jokes that litter it are grown up and amusing. It’s not slapstick comedy that will have you rolling in the isles, but rather witticism and observation that is delivered with perfect timing so catch you off guard and make you chuckle, repeatedly.

Greta Gerwig, Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas Jones & Michael Chernus - Mistress America

Gerwig’s performance is good and you empathise with her character but visually, she just fails to feel real. There is a strange juxtaposition of seriousness and embarrassment that mean she too often looks out of place or like she doesn’t really believe in what she is saying. Her eyes telling a different story to her face. Whilst Lola Kirke alongside Gerwig puts in a performance that is hard to fault as she’s never really stretched. Simply being forgetful, she could be any actress playing the college girl lost on the path of life. Her character is just a little too faceless and blends into her surroundings just a bit too much, failing to create any real emotion. I will give special praise for Matthew Shear though who works wonderfully as the comedic grounding that keeps the film together, although he’s just a parting bit in Gerwig and Kirke’s main story. His on screen quips with Jasmine Cephas Jones and Michael Chernus are absolutely brilliant and arguably the highlight of the film.

Overall, Mistress America is an entertaining film, that makes virtually no sense and ultimately just lacks that little bit of quality or sharpness to make it into something special. You can see that the ideas were there to make it great, but that they’ve failed to execute them quite as well as they could have. The layers of dialogue not quite fitting together as well as they could in places, and the editing at times feeling a little choppy and rushed. I still am not clear on it’s meaning, and therefore, what I’m meant to take away from it, how my life and emotions should change as a result of it’s diatribe, but I did, somehow, enjoy it. It’s fun and it’s characters are somehow implausibly real even if there world a little bleak. It’s certainly not Frances Ha, but it’s got just enough of a personality to keep me entertained even if I think it’ll disappear from my memory as quickly as it arrived.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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