Monday, August 24, 2015

Mistress America [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Mistress America [2015] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Noah Baumbach along with Greta Gerwig) is a coming of age story that hits some of the same notes as the Matthew Broderick starring The Freshman [1990] of a generation ago:

Small town, Iowa-born, Tracy (played by Lola Kirke) finds herself a bit lost, a "fish out of water," at the beginning of her first semester, freshman year, out at Columbia University in New York City.  She's a pretty bright / quite talented English major who's entered a school that she discovers is _filled_ with other quite intelligent / talented and _competitive_ students.  One gets the sense that she can (or certainly feels) that she can "hold her own" academically / talent-wise with her classmates, but perhaps coming from "small town Iowa," she's surprised at the competitive backstabbing:  Sharing a short story that she's written and quite proud of doesn't get her praise or esteem among her class / dorm-mates, but rather surprising (and disappointing) silence and (at least some degree of) marginalization.  There appears to be a problem in revealing oneself to be "too good too fast."  What to do?

Well her mother, back in Iowa, suggests that she look-up Brooke (played by Greta Gerwig) the "also left Iowa for NYC" (some ten years ago) daughter of the man that Tracy's mother was recently engaged to marry (one starts to understand a little why "sweet and a perhaps little naive Midwestern Tracy" was had decided to go quite far away to college...).  "But ma, she's like 30 years old."  "Yeah, but from what I hear, I think she can help you."  Though not particularly enthusiastic at first, after Tracy's sort-of dumped (or pre-dumped, they weren't ever really going out) by a classmate named Tony (played by Matthew Shear) precisely because Tracy's smarter / more talented than Tony's comfortable with, Tracy decides to give Brooke a call, and ...

... Brooke arrives into Tracy's life like a Revelation.  Yes, she's almost 30 but she's "bubbly and wise" (in as much as someone "bubbly" could be "wise") and as obviously a transplant to NY as well, she's been "where" Tracy now finds herself as well: IN A NEW AND ENORMOUS CITY with _all kinds_ of almost magical possibilities but not really knowing how to "break the code to enter."  In this regard, Brooke comes across to Tracy as almost a Super-Hero.

And indeed as the two talk the first night that they meet, Brooke even tells her (after Tracy's told her that she wants to become a writer) that she's even invented a Super-Hero character -- "Mistress America" -- but ... (and this becomes important) ... she's never really done much more with her (other than come-up with her name).

Tracy kinda laughs, "That's a strange name for a Super-Hero.  It kinda sounds like 'America's Girlfriend on the Side.'"

And this is where the movie really starts:  As Tracy gets to know Brooke better, she realizes that Brooke is actually a lot like the Super-Hero character that she herself invented -- bubbling, even a volcano, full of all kinds of ideas / unrealized potential, BUT (for any number of reasons) ...

It all makes for a fun / interesting character study and Greta Gerwig plays the somewhat "tragically comic" character very, very well ;-).  The goal is, of course, _not_ to be rendered anyone's "Girlfriend on the side ..."  And yet, there's bubbly almost 30 y/o Brooke, who's never quite been #1 to anybody or in anything.

Anyway it makes for a very interesting "off to college" / "coming of age" story for our (perhaps quite competitive) time ;-)

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