Home Arts Baumbach occupies Woody Allen’s NYC with Mistress America

Baumbach occupies Woody Allen’s NYC with Mistress America

by Elijah Bukreev September 1, 2015

End your summer on a high note with this delightful NYC comedy

Mistress America comes at you like a whirlwind of fresh air on a scalding hot day—the perfect entertainment for an end-of-summer evening. Sit back, relax, and let Noah Baumbach handle the rest.

When it comes to Woody Allen movies, most of the recent ones have been filmed in Europe. This is because, as he said at a 2010 press conference in Spain, New York City has gotten too expensive and is not a haven of creativity anymore. Well, Baumbach’s charming indie comedy reaches an artistic high point that Allen doesn’t always reach anymore, proving him wrong on both issues. Baumbach is more or less sitting on Allen’s throne in the city, and he is certainly no less talented. Baumbach is smart to allow new blood into the screenwriting process. Allen can never speak for today’s young people, and when he tries to, his dialogue has an awkward and somewhat artificial sound to it. Baumbach, on the other hand, has collaborated several times with Greta Gerwig, a lovely actress and gifted writer who is an integral part of this film.

Gerwig, as the 30-year-old Brooke, shares the screen with Lola Kirke, who plays 18-year-old Tracy. Tracy’s mom is marrying Brooke’s dad, so the two women are about to become sisters. Tracy has just moved to NYC for college and decides to give Brooke a call. They meet, spend a night partying—in Baumbach’s world, that means intellectual and artistic debates—and become close friends. There is a sense that Tracy is an outsider, introverted and lacking confidence, while Brooke, a dynamic entrepreneur who seems to have an exciting part-time job lined-up for every hour of the day, gets out of life what Tracy can only get out of books.

Neither one has any siblings of their own. With the parents out of the picture, save for a few phone calls, the film devotes itself entirely to the two young women. Tracy, who speaks to us through voice-over, starts writing a short story inspired by Brooke’s life, which she finds to be, perhaps vampirically, an ideal feeding ground. Regardless of Tracy’s ambition as a writer, their relationship is close and affectionate, yet life tends to get in the way, and that’s where much of the comedy – but also drama – arises. There’s some talk about love, friendship, terrifically memorable side characters, but mostly the film is simply about the excitement of being young and alive in a city full of opportunity.

The story is wonderful, and while some late developments can seem forced, it opens with energy, ends with a bang, and leaves you with a stupid grin when the lights come up. If Frances Ha was an obvious homage to the French New Wave, Baumbach’s new film is decidedly modern, but also unexplainably old fashioned. He has a knack for making the most ordinary events into an adventure – perhaps he got that from Wes Anderson, a past collaborator of his. Mistress America is a total delight, with the kind of lightning-fast and deadpan hilarious dialogue you only hear in old movies. If you always tell yourself that “they don’t make them like that anymore”, guess what – they still do. You just have to know the venue.

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