Some directors can make two perfect movies in one year. Noah Baumbach is not one of them.
Movie Review #1,028
Fox Searchlight Pictures
1 hour, 24 minutes
Rated R (language including some sexual references)
Released August 14, 2015
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Written by Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
Starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Seth Barrish, and Andrea Chen
If you’ve seen “Frances Ha”, you know that Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach are a damn good team. You wouldn’t think so from just watching “Mistress America”, though. This is their third feature together, and while I still do hope there are many more to follow, I also hope that the two decide to put some more thought into their coming films. “Mistress America” is more of a blueprint for a character study than a complete work. Seeing that this is Baumbach’s second feature film of 2015 (following the brilliant “While We’re Young”), it seems probable that he wasn’t spending as much time, effort, or thought on “Mistress America”.
“Mistress America” is about a smart, shy, brunette college freshman, and her dumb, talkative, blonde soon-to-be-stepsister who is about ten years older than her. But if we’re using the word “about” to say “this is the story the movie is trying to tell,” then it’s admittedly difficult to use that word. I guess it’s “about” dialogue. There’s lots and lots of dialogue here, and frankly, it may as well just be monologue. For better or for worse, Greta Gerwig is the star of the show. Okay, so she’s not that likable of a character. She’s naïve. She’s self-absorbed. She’s a stereotypical blonde airhead whose only talent seems to be not shutting the hell up. In a nutshell, she’s a woman in her late twenties who stands a sufficient response to the question, “What do you get when you cross a stereotypical high school drama queen with a New York City socialite?” Sometimes the results of this characterization are absolutely hysterical because she’s not the least bit self-aware. Other times, her lack of self-awareness doesn’t seem to change the fact that she’s completely annoying.
The best thing I can say about the movie is with regard to its script. What Gerwig and Baumbach have crafted matches the same level of optimistic, free-spirited cleverness that they met in “Frances Ha”. The dialogue here is at times priceless. Beyond that, however, it’s barren. Trying to find the plot in “Mistress America” is like a really convoluted version of Where’s Waldo?. You’re not just trying to look at a drawing of a crowd and find Waldo hidden somewhere in there. Instead, you’re watching video surveillance of Times Square and trying to figure out where Waldo is as thousands of people hustle and bustle around the area. With that said, if you can actually find the plot in “Mistress America”, then I applaud you. I certainly couldn’t.