Mistress America Review - A Charming, Madcap, Manhattan Adventure

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Mistress America, from FOX Searchlight Pictures and RT Features, brings to the screen the intimate look at the romance verses reality of life in New York City and all its fast paced imagery, snobbery and pseudo intellectualism.

Directed and co-written by Noah Baumbach, Mistress America stars Greta Gerwig, who also served as co-writer, and Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Heather Lind, Michael Chernus, Cindy Cheung, Kathryn Erbe and Dean Wareham.

Mistress America opens with Tracy, played by Lola Kirke, arriving at her freshman dorm of an unnamed Ivy League university. For those who know Manhattan the location and neighborhood imagery pinpoints the possibility of either Columbia and Barnard.

Wondering aimlessly, armed with her belief, she is hardly prepared for the here and now, let alone the future and her five year plan that fortunately has not taken a firm grasp on her yet. These scenes really capture the truth of freshman life, the ideas are fresh and the dialogue genuine.

Everyone has those moments, especially in these types of highly charged intellectual environments. Honestly, armed with only the fact  that you were one of how many who received the big envelope in response to the application, seems to be enough to unleash, like a genie in the bottle, the belief of intellectual superiority.

The need to be noticed by those considered more intelligent, which is where we meet Tracy’s new friends, is the single most important pursuit outside of sex and hooking up, especially on the freshman level,.

We spend the beginning of the film wondering around campus with Tracy as she begins to acclimate to her surrounding and pursuits. She finds a friend, Tony, played by Matthew Shear, who shares the same ideas, desire and insecurities. Together they navigate the submission process for Moibus the student run literary magazine, of which neither are accepted.

Soon freshman depression takes over, and at the continual urging of her mother, played by Kathryn Erbe who is planning a Thanksgiving wedding, she calls Brooke, played by Greta Gerwig.

Brooke, the daughter of Tracy’s mom’s fiancé is also in the Thanksgiving Wedding, and of all things Tracy is the one thing she is not is confident. Finally, she gives in and calls . . .and hangs up after the message. Smart, quick, easy. Suddenly as if a challenge was made the phone rings and our seasoned New York gal, calls and wants to know who is calling.

Soon the two are meeting in Times Square, which begins the romanticizing trip we are embarking on as Brooke, a highly resourceful typical New Yorker, a bit zany, somewhat unusual, opinionated, nurturing, truly one of a kind, is suddenly the big sister and in love with the idea. In a sea of joiners she remains separate. She walks to her own beat and isn’t concerned about showing the genuineness of her situations. She is real.

Tracy, meeting Brooke for the first time, becomes enamored with her life, and is caught in the romance of life in Manhattan as opposed to the grind of the city. Just as she is with the romance of being a writer in New York as opposed to the angst of simply putting words on the page, deadlines, rejections letters and lost hours.

The two embark on a series of adventures as Brooke, eight years older, is somewhat nearer to a focused approached while retaining her endearing scatterbrain quality. She is ordered chaos.

As the story evolves the current love of Brooke’s life has changed his mind and the locks, which leave her essentially locked out and homeless. Although in Manhattan, the resourceful Brooke, climbs into the apartment through the fire escape, without thought or concern, and with the situation remains overlooked for some time.

Brooke looking to breathe easy for just a moment is once again in the middle of a hurricane as the whole world erupts again as the lover was financing her restaurant idea, his investors also left.

Her personal finances are a wreck, which can give the impression of fiscal ignorance in reality, the sad truth is that she can never get a break. Educated and overlooked, she works several freelance jobs. She created a design that a former roommate stole, turned into a mini conglomerate and sold to a clothing chain. And in order to ensure Brooke would never recover she runs off with her boyfriend and steals her cats.

Typical Manhattanite demons. Which ushers in the second and final acts.

Greta Gerwig, as co-writer, crafted a role that she could step into seamlessly, which she does. She is very talented and her comedic timing is fine tuned. She has a real gift for creating the oddly loveable, stretched, resourceful Manhattanite.

I felt Mistress America left each character with an unwritten ending. It is unusual in the arch to end without a neat conclusion. The characters portrayed in Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America do not have that ‘all is worked out’ ending. The idea is that there is some thought needed, like a really good book, that allows for the viewer's imagination to be active in the details also.

Suddenly as you leave the theater, singing your way out as the soundtrack is also really great, scenarios of possible endings for our scattered and sympathetic characters come to mind.

The Manhattan backdrop was genuinely portrayed. Baumbach allowed the city, with all its madness to almost be an equal character to Brooke’s big presence and unusualness. It’s impossible to play Manhattan any other way. It is too big to ignore and moves at an incredible pace. Lifetimes are lived in a moment.

Relationships seem to dominate in this film, as the dynamics of old roommates, of which can spiral into the abyss of horror stories, to lovers, apartment dwellers, old boyfriends, and then of course, the city itself, which can be a bitch in one block and suddenly in a New York minute life turns and the lion is tamed and all the lights are green.

Mistress America, the second collaboration from Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, is fun, zany unusual, sad, disheartening and hopeful. It portrays life . . . in progress.

Mistress America opens in select theaters August 14, 2015.

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