How far is too far? What’s the difference between what we see in people and what they see in themselves? Those are the questions explored in Noah Baumbach’s latest feature film “Mistress America.” Baumbach is known for his films about characters struggling with growing up, and “Mistress America” is no different. The film, which stars Lola Kirke, an up-and-coming actress, and Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha,” “Greenberg” and “No Strings Attached”), focuses on the life of a first-year at Barnard College who is thrust into the crazy life of her soon to be stepsister.
“Mistress America” explores many of the same types of issues as Baumbach’s other films. Much like in “Frances Ha,” “Mistress America” features a young female protagonist who is going through a tough change and possible growth. In both movies, the women find themselves hit with conflict after conflict, only to end up all right at the film’s conclusion.
While this may sound boring, both films have their strengths. In particular, “Mistress America” is very accessible to the general audience. Granted, it tells the tale of a young, attractive, middle class, white woman in New York, something we’ve all seen before, but I think this film portrays this trope a little better. For instance, Tracy (0Kirke) doesn’t have a perfectly peachy life. She finds herself struggling with the realization that the way things are in the movies isn’t how they are in real life. Most of us, as college students who had never previously been away from home for such an extended period of time, are going through similar struggles as Tracy.
My favorite part of the movie is how it attempts and, for the most part, succeeds at debunking the manic pixie dream girl trope. Greta Gerwig’s character, Brooke, is what every young girl dreams of being. She lives in an amazing apartment, in an even more amazing city. Her boyfriend is wealthy, and best of all, she doesn’t seem to have to work hard for anything; it all just comes to her without any effort.
By the movie’s final act, however, Brooke’s shiny façade of a perfect life has completely crumbled. All of her half-baked dreams have to be put on hold as she slowly realizes that it’s time to buckle down and be serious about her life. The true debunking of the trope doesn’t necessarily happen for Brooke. Rather, it is Tracy that finally realizes that she’s put Brooke on a pedestal so high up it would be impossible for anyone to reach it.
Lola Kirke shines as Tracy, which comes as no surprise, given that acting runs in her family. (Her older sister Jemima currently stars in HBO’s “Girls.”) Her role in “Gone Girl” as a swindling nomad is completely different from her role as Tracy. In fact, I think it’s safe to say you wouldn’t recognize Kirke unless you know going in that she’s in both movies. She has a real talent for disappearing into her character, which I think is quite impressive for such an inexperienced actress.
But, as usual, Greta Gerwig is the star of the show. She delivers Brooke’s witty quips deftly, which keeps the viewers on their toes throughout the entire film. In fact, I was reminded of Lorelai and Rory’s signature quick wit and banter on “Gilmore Girls.” If you aren’t paying enough attention, you’ll miss the opportunity for a good chuckle. These types of characters are becoming Gerwig’s signature style in both acting and writing.
Although it is overall a great film, it must be noted that the cast could be more diverse. The few characters of color that we see are either shed in a negative light or consistently the brunt of the joke. Whereas “Mistress America” could have told a more compelling story, with more compelling and perhaps non-white cis characters, it had too many similarities with Baumbach and Gerwig’s previous film, “Frances Ha.” At this point we’ve seen this plot repeated over and over again.
We even see it in Kirke’s older sister’s series! We get it — young people don’t know what to do with themselves in New York. For Gerwig, it would also have been nice to see her play a character other than the resident quirky girl with no career, let alone a steady job. Perhaps a more serious role would actually help her break out into more of the mainstream.
All in all, I really can’t wait to see Lola Kirke in more starring roles. She truly shines as an actress. Luckily, with three movies currently in the works, I won’t have to wait too long.