By Ryan Stanley
With the recent release of Lady Bird in the UK, and its success worldwide, I decided to check out some of its directors past projects. Having already known about Greta Gerwig’s early career, and her starring in and writing many mumblecore films, I chose to find something around the time she was on the cusp of becoming a major, well known player in the business to the mainstream. I decided upon Mistress America, her third, out of four, collaborations with writer/director Noah Baumbach.
The plot of the film is a very simple story – College freshman, Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke), is having trouble settling in to her new surroundings of Barnard College, New York. She eventually befriends a student, developing feelings for him, though his lack of interest just makes her feel lonelier. Her mother decides she should get in contact with her step-sister to be, Brooke (Greta Gerwig). When she does her life turns upside down.
Firstly, the performances in the film are all great, especially the leads Gerwig and Kirke. They bring a certain charm to roles that could easily be seen as pretentious – those of an 18 year old with a superiority complex, confused as to why she isn’t the top dog anymore, or why she isn’t popular, and a 30 year old dreamer, whose life may be as perfect as it seems on top. The chemistry between the two is palpable and you truly believe in the relationship that is bonding between them. This comes from the strength of the script, co-written between Gerwig and Baumbach, which is incredibly endearing, yet bittersweet, and so witty, often times a little too much however with the dialogue feeling like it had been written by a first time student writer, although this adds to the lost, stuck in time nature of Gerwig’s Brooke.
The flighty nature of the script is one of the films greatest aspects, with it jumping from its relationship building opening two acts into a wonderful, screwball-esque final act – Gerwig’s Brooke needs money for one of her business ventures, so goes to her former best friend, turned nemesis to try and claim perceived debts owed. This escalates into a collection of character interaction and character revelation, which just becomes so over the top that it’s farcical in the right way and is expertly written and directed.
Musically the film really finds its stride; using its orchestral side to really punch its ideas and emotions forward. All the while its use of existing songs punctuates this even further, with OMD’s Souvenir being used throughout to create a truly melancholic, if upbeat atmosphere.
It isn’t without its shortcomings however, mostly reasons relating to secondary characters and its ending. While a lot of time is given to its primary duo, the secondary characters are somewhat more two dimensional. Though they are heavily featured within the film, they often fall flat as characters, in particular, Tracy’s mum, who seemed a character that would have been fun to explore with the flaws brought up in her brief screen time. The ending of the film, after the amazing farcical Segway in the films third act, seems to wrap up far too neatly for my liking, and although sometimes in life this is the case, it didn’t feel right here.
All in all I found the film to be a breath of fresh air; even though it had its faults I was thoroughly entertained and engaged throughout, and at 84 minutes long it didn’t outstay its welcome. I truly can’t wait to see what Lady Bird has to offer on the strength of this.
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