Saturday, 26 September 2015

Review: Mistress America

World of Blackout Film Review

Mistress America Poster

Mistress America
Cert: 15 / 84 mins / Dir. Noah Baumbach / Trailer
WoB Rating: 5/7

I wasn't originally going to give this film a whirl (it's been on general release for around six weeks at the time of writing) largely because I was uninspired by the trailer, but positive rumblings from those who know, an opening in my #FilmDay schedule and the chance to visit the rather fantastic Prince Charles Cinema in London meant it was on the day's to-view list. Long story short: I'm very glad I did, because Mistress America is rather enjoyable. Damning with faint praise I know, but I'd braced myself for the worst, so…

Written by director Noah Baumbach and co-lead Greta Gerwig, the film follows college freshman and aspiring writer Tracy (Lola Kirke) as she adapts to life in New York and gets to know her imminent step-sister, Brooke (Gerwig), a hyper, flitzy personification of the 21st century, trying (and sporadically succeeding) to find her way in the Big Apple. Each cynical in their differing ways, Tracy and Brooke quickly discover each other's strengths and weaknesses as Real Life proceeds to disregard their plans equally.

The good? Mistress America is smart, funny and far more charming than it could have been. The film begins on a firm thrust, with Lola Kirke being quietly magnificent from the outset; full of the self-doubt and despondency which transcends both age and gender. The subtle yet intricate character-building in the first act is phenomenal, with ostensibly throwaway details (Tracy's heavily cracked phone-screen indicating both her financial status and inherent clumsiness, for example) taking the place of the lines of exposition that other films would lay down instead. The dialogue reminds me of Clerks-era Kevin Smith, especially the way much of it is delivered. Kirke has the most to do here (visually, anyway) and although her performance is the most endearing, it's often overshadowed by her co-stars' louder roles, although that's not to disparage them, either.

The bad? The writing and performances here are fantastic, but they only meet in the middle half of the time. Luckily, I was able to enjoy them both separately (yet at the same time, ironically). The film often feels like a read-through or rehearsal, with the lines performed by actors that know who the characters should be, but aren't quite comfortable with them yet. Greta Gerwig's Brooke is a particular anomaly; so (intentionally/necessarily) annoying*1 that she goes full loop and becomes quite endearing again, even before her character-arc is complete.

The ugly? The film isn't rushed but at 84 minutes long you'll hardly have time to warm your seat. Another half an hour of this would have been delightful.

Full of things which are very, very good, Mistress America never quite becomes more than a collection of them. It's still pretty great, though.

Best line: "I'm pretty sure college is meant to be more fun than I'm having. I'm fairly attractive…"

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
Well, I'm not sure if I'd go quite that far…

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Buy it when it drops to about a fiver; there's enough charm there for infrequent re-watching.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
It's not really for me to say, but I enjoyed everyone's performances.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Greta Gerwig starred in 2012's Frances Ha, alongside Adam 'Kylo Ren' Driver.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Unlike in Eden, where she was so annoying she became annoying…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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