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Review: Mistress America


I have a confession to make: I have a girl crush on actress Greta Gerwig. And I’m certainly not the only one…

“Have you ever had a friend like Greta Gerwig?” gushes Mel Campbell on Junkee.

“Someone who sweeps you up with her enthusiasm, takes you on adventures and always has you nodding along with her serious conversation as smitten manchildren follow her around like puppies? She’s casual and self deprecating, yet bursting with natural glamour.”

A lot of us can relate to the person she shows us, and we can’t easily dislike her for being beautiful and talented, on- and off-screen.

“I’d been trying to avoid movies for a long time when I saw Frances Ha,” Tavi Gevinson writes introducing an interview with Gerwig for Rookie Mag. “After this lovely movie, I walked outside and everything looked nicer than it had before, and I felt like I could move a little more confidently and that no matter what happened, it would be on some level hilarious, and on every level OK… [Gerwig] is so wonderful in it, perfectly cringe-inducing in Frances’s many embarrassing moments, and utterly captivating the whole way through. When we spoke a few weeks ago for this interview, she was totally captivating and not at all cringe-inducing.”


Gerwig’s characters make flaws and screwed-upness look adorable, lack of success and of achieving certain milestones in life not only passable but a sign of resistance to trite routine/stability, mismanaged talents and broken dreams a fact of life like doing laundry or paying (or missing) the rent. She’s pretty in an accessible way, optimistic even in her bleakest moments, and the type of person you both want to be and to avoid being. It’s just like that in her latest film, Mistress America, which she made with her partner Noah Baumbach as a sort of sequel to Frances Ha (2012), though the protagonists in the two movies are not the same person.

In Mistress America, Gerwig plays 30-something New York resident Brooke. We meet Brooke at the same time as her step-sister-to-be Tracy (Lola Kirke), a socially awkward college freshman, meets her for the first time at Times Square. Like Tracy, you probably immediately fall in love with Brooke, and deeper still as you behold her unfolding effusiveness, charisma and many talents being thwarted by a chronically scattered attention span. Tracy, who is an exceptionally talented writer, reflects on her feelings later in a semi-fictional story she comes up with featuring a Brooke-like protagonist: Her enchantment with Brooke makes her blind (or pretend to be blind) to her shortcomings. Brooke has grandiose plans that will never come true. Tracy, who is not naturally popular or magnetic like Brooke, has the potential for follow-through and decisiveness that she doesn’t have. They complement each other and become instant friends, but they’re both caught in between being girl and woman, and a dose of reality, on several fronts, may tear them apart…

At first glance Brooke seems to have a charmed life, but not long into the plot we find out that she has troubles with her living arrangements, lack of career and unfinished business involving a “frenemy” who stole her fiancé and T-shirt enterprise idea. Her decision to confront her ex-partner and ex-friend at their fancy home has some funny, sad, surprising and deeply revealing consequences for most of the film’s characters: epiphanies about themselves, about each other, and for the audience. Don’t take your eyes off that pristine living room! It’s like Big Brother, but with substance… and way more class.

Perhaps my girl crush on Gerwig has made me blind to the shortcomings of her latest movie.

It’s a long-lived crush. I don’t remember much from her earlier movie Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007), which I watched years ago at Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, North Carolina; but I certainly remember her, and wanting to see her again. One of her quotes in Frances Ha has become one of my favorite quotes ever – something to live by, even:

Frances: “It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it… but it’s a party… and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining… and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes… but – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual… but because… that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s – That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”

And that, right there… sealed the deal for me.

I suppose one could vaguely compare Gerwig to Meg Ryan and Zooey Deschanel, but I think Gerwig has the potential to go to greater depths of self-deprecation, which could make for increasingly interesting characters. Let’s just hope that her roles don’t become too formulaic, and that her versatility increases as she progresses in her acting career. I give Gerwig great credit for writing her own roles, including in Mistress America. I could sense a big personal touch and emotional investment in it.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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