Noah Baumbach’s latest pairing with Greta Gerwig is a distinctly modern film imbued with the spirit of a screwball comedy. It’s the director’s funniest since his debut Kicking And Screaming, and his most optimistic. There’s still a rich vein of cynicism running through every line of dialogue, but Baumbach’s been stripping away some of his more caustic impulses in recent years, and just as Frances Ha and While We’re Young had a lighter touch than the films that preceded them, this one is practically fizzing.
Mistress America follows bright literary student Tracy (Lola Kirke), who meets her soon-to-be sister-in-law Brooke (Gerwig) for a fun night in New York City, the sort of breathless experience that leaves someone Tracy’s age with indelible memories. Their endless enthusiasm makes them hugely likeable, even though a lot of the film’s humour comes from showing us their many foibles.
Kirke and Gerwig (who co-wrote) excel at playing these flawed beings, with Gerwig in particular managing to stay charming while behaving terribly. As the film progresses, their view of each other (and our view of them) becomes complicated, before events relocate to a single location and the manic screwball tone intensifies.
Mistress America is the kind of deceptively simple film that’s easily enjoyable while containing a multitude of observations about the human condition. It’s an invigorating flight of fancy, agreeably silly but secretly serious.