Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Heather Lind, Michael Chernus, Cindy Cheung, Kathryn Erbe, Dean Wareham
Written by: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references
Running Time: 84
Date: 08/14/2015
IMDB

Mistress America (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Self-Taught

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new movie from Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, is intelligent but overwritten, energetic but irritating, and it's difficult to become attached to its chatty characters. With their wonderful previous movie, Frances Ha, director/co-writer Baumbach and co-writer/star Gerwig found the soul of their lovable goofball, but they fail to do the same with Mistress America.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is attending college in New York City but having trouble making any headway in her social life. Her single mom is about to marry her new boyfriend, giving Tracy a would-be step-sister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig). On a whim, Tracy calls Brooke and finds herself swept up in a whirlwind of energy and sophistication; Brooke seems to know the ins and outs of the City, working several "jobs" and forever spouting ideas for more. Tracy idolizes her and begins writing down their exploits in her stories. When a fortune teller sends Brooke to an old boyfriend to seek financing for a restaurant idea, Tracy goes along. Unfortunately, she finds the entire situation coming to a frothy head.

By focusing on an inexperienced main character and seeing Gerwig's Brooke through her eyes, she feels once removed. That might have been fine if Baumbach's production wasn't focused on low-budget, urban realism, with impressive shots of New York City as it lives and breathes. This approach only makes Brooke feel more artificial and displaced. She's the property of a wordy screenplay. Attempting a crackling banter between characters, the movie rarely gets off the page; it feels more like a read-through than a movie. But Gerwig is terrific, and, with a little focus, Mistress America might have been a treat.

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