Tag Archives: Noah Baumbach

Mistress America – Review


I won’t lie to you. Noah Baumbach is climbing rapidly to the top of my most admired directors list. Last years While We’re Young was a sensational film (you can read my review here). Prior to that he made Frances Ha, starring his real life lady love Greta Gerwig, which didn’t excite me near as much as While We’re Young, though it was still a solid, well made indie comedy. Mistress America has Baumbach reuniting with Gerwig once again as he examines the lives of young folk living in America. As you might have guessed by my gushing over the director, I did like Mistress America very much, but there’s more to this film, and my admiration of it, than a simple thumbs up.


The film takes place, as with Baumbach’s prior films, in the hustle and bustle of New York City. The Big Apple is an instantly recognizable, uncannily cinematic and irresistibly exciting locale for shooting a film and Baumbach wisely matches the vibe of the city with the energy of Gerwig’s character Brooke. Before we’re introduced to Brooke, however, we meet young Tracy. Tracy, played by Lola Kirke, is a plucky, though naive, college freshman. She aspires to be a writer and we witness her in various campus activities, be it study groups or discussing a super exclusive literary club at the school. Tracy’s mother is due to marry a new beau and encourages young Tracy to reach out to her fiancé’s daughter Brooke, who’s also living in the big Apple, as the two are soon to be step-sisters. Brooke gladly takes Tracy under her wing and Lola is soon after swept away in the tornado of Brooke’s life.

What’s interesting about Mistress America is it’s a film that examines the mind, and life, of a constant dreamer. Brooke is a wide eyed, powder keg of anxious energy. She’s a T-shirt designer, an interior decorator, an entrepreneur, and most recently a restaurateur. The restaurant she hopes to open is as idealistic as can be. She wants to open a place where people can come eat, relax, have fun, throw parties and everything in between. A lofty goal, no doubt, but we’re pulling for Brooke, who’s charismatic charm makes us believe she can do anything she puts her mind to. Tracy is equally smitten with the idea, though she see’s that Brooke is the constant dreamer who may not be able to pull it off in the end. Being a writer, Tracy puts her adventures with Brooke into a short story which grants her entry into the aforementioned exclusive literary society. Naturally Brooke finds out that Tracy’s story puts her in a bad light and the two have a falling out. Of course this is short lived as the two have grown to really love each other as genuine siblings. It’s a sappy, touching end to the film, but it feels natural and welcome.

Much like While We’re Young before it Mistress America examines the lifestyles, mind sets, and struggles of those in their mid to late twenties and the generational differences that come with age. Brooke is older than Tracy in the film, I believe by ten years give or take. It’s curious that Tracy, the youth, is the one that see’s the world a little more for what it is rather than Brooke, the consummate starry eyed dreamer. Both actresses knock it out of the park. Greta Gerwig is instantly believable, to the point that you could imagine this being a little more documentary than fictional narrative. Lola Kirke, who I’ve never seen in anything prior, has a smoky allure that perfectly contrasts her characters naiveté. She’s vulnerable, but not to the point of being breakable. She’s confident, smart, witty, but still craves the big sister mentorship of someone like Brooke. This is some of the best casting I’ve seen in a film in a long time, with each supporting cast member holding their own, breathing life into every frame of the film’s modest run time.


I will say I didn’t enjoy this as much as While We’re Young. I’d dare to say that film was one of my favorite’s from last year, and it could very well be that I saw more of myself and related to the characters in that film more so than in Mistress America. That’s not to say Mistress America is not worth watching. It absolutely is. It’s a funny, touching, entertaining ride that makes you wish you could spend more time with these people. They’re the sort of people you want to get to know and be around, warts and all. Noah Baumbach is absolutely on a roll and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

While We’re Young


The generational divide between those approaching middle age and those in their twenties has always been very interesting to me. I suppose it’s because both sections in ones life represent a crossroads. The twenty something’s are just barely becoming adults and the forty something’s are just beginning to feel their age. There’s a moment in this movie where Naomi Watts’s character says something to the effect of “[This young couples] apartment is filled with all the things we once threw out.” In the movie itself that line doesn’t carry an enormous amount of weight, but from an outside perspective it’s remarkably profound. It really shines a light on the fascination with the retro and vintage that the so called Hipster sub-culture seems obsessed with. While I could drone on and on about the social and cultural meanings of the film let’s first take a look at the film itself and see how it holds up.


The plot of this film isn’t terribly complicated. You’ve got a 44 year old documentary filmmaker Josh, played fabulously by Ben Stiller, and his 43 year old wife Cornelia, played just as magnanimously by Naomi Watts, navigating their lives. They seem happy enough. They’ve got similarly aged friends, friends who have just had a baby no less, and appear to act their age, whatever that means. Everything feels hunky dory. While lecturing about documentary filmmaking Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and his young wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie is naturally a huge fan of Josh’s films and Josh is captivated by the energy and fearlessness of this 25 year old spitfire. Josh and Cornelia are pulled into the lives of Darby and Jamie and seem very happy. They seem energized by their youthful compatriots and as such begin to change how they act, how they dress and the sorts of activities they take part in. As the film unravels we find that Jamie isn’t the loosey goosey free spirit he seems. He’s much more calculated and ambitious than Josh thinks, and Josh feels betrayed by this false persona he, by his own admission, fell in love with. For the character Stiller plays it’s an earth shattering revelation, but as the other characters in the film point out it’s not that big a deal. From there Josh and Cornelia have to confront their age, and find happiness with who they are, or rather who they’ve become with age. Like I said, plot isn’t really where this film shines. It’s these full, rich characters. That’s the hook here.


One of the things I most enjoyed about this film is that it put the Hipster mindset in the spotlight. It held it up for inspection. There’s a moment in the film when all our main characters are in a car together and Adam Drivers character mentions this hilarious song/video he saw on YouTube. Stiller’s character chuckles and says he remembers that from a commercial when he was a kid. Later Driver plays Stiller a song and Stiller remarks that he remembers a time when that song was just considered bad. Both of these moments capture the fascination that misty eyed twenty something’s have with the pop culture elements of yesteryear. What was originally bland and every day stuff is now looked it with a sense of wonder and reverie. Take that sentiment and couple it with and older generation looking back with nostalgia at the carefree attitudes of youth and you get a very interesting contrast. For the first two acts of this film you’ve got two couples who both admire each other for what they are, and what they aren’t. What I enjoyed most of all in the movie is that neither generation nor point of view is romanticized over the other. We’re not pushed to think that either generation has it right, or is better than the other. Both sets of couples are fleshed out, real people. While watching the movie I saw parts of myself, and parts of people I know in each character. They felt truly authentic. You understood these people and felt for them as they tried to figure out their lives.

I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It’s shot very well and with a great city like New York as your backdrop it’s easy to make each frame pop with life. The score is varied and interesting, and at times reminded me of something right out of a Wes Anderson picture. Director Noah Baumbach really did a knockout job with this picture. This is a movie about very real characters dealing with very real things. Though their trials and tribulations don’t have Earth shattering consequences it’s refreshing to see a film about genuine people. I left the theater feeling motivated and happy. What more could I ask for?