Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mistress America (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Mistress America

Noah Baumbach is best known for his melancholic indie comedies that have a glib and facile quickness. Character-wise they are usually edgy, idiosyncratic and rich in personality, almost like a graphic novel.

His latest "Mistress America" is no exception.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) has moved into a dorm at Columbia. She doesn't fit in. At her mom's urging, Tracy half-heartedly dials Brooke (Greta Gerwig), whose father is marrying Tracy's mom.

Tracy agrees to meet at Times Square.

From first impression, Brooke is a true Renaissance girl. She has seen it all and done it twice over. She is charming, chatty and only thirty. Brooke has supersonic speech faster than a multi-tasker on thirty espressos and she never allows anyone to reply.

Despite this flaw, she appears much in demand by the hipster crowd and seemingly has it all together.

Regardless of her endless chatter, Tracy likes her. Perhaps she is fascinated or lonely, but more than likely, it is a little of both.

Brooke is obsessed by her ex-fiance's new wife, Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) believing that the woman stole her t-shirt design concept, in addition to her beau, Dylan (Michael Chernus).

Brooke leads a spontaneous confrontation with Mamie-Claire, believing it to be the key to getting her life back and starting a new restaurant. A comedy of errors ensues involving her bohemian acquaintances who are all grouped together as in a surrealist film by Luis Bunuel. There is Tony (Matthew Shear), an icy writer painfully seeking attention, his jealous girlfriend Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones), and a verbally cutting lawyer (
Cindy Cheung )

Brooke oscillates in friendship from warmth to indifference and it is unclear what truly holds Brooke and Tracy together. The two are not entirely likable by themselves. Brooke is egocentric and vain. Tracy is introverted, passive and clearly a bit of a voyeur. Mixed together they make an odd absinthe, jumpy, volatile and hard to discern at bottom.

The most witty moments are the party scenes involving Dylan and Brooke. She is clearly a mess, but the more incoherent she becomes, the more Dylan becomes smitten by her, making a spoof of what is hip, meaningful and of the moment.  In his  mad ardor for Brooke, Michael Chernus as Dylan in steals the show.

Like most of Baumbach's character films, "Mistress America" works at you softly and almost lullingly around the periphery, only to make you wonder in an instant and pull you in.

Underneath Tracy's predictable Woody Allen voiceover, there is mystery. Who is using whom? What is the nature of dysfunction and its possible meaningful role in a friendship?

These questions and some vibrantly comic dialogue make solid entertainment which will poke at you in its gentleness coupled with its understated quirks.

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