Mistress America (3 stars)

Mistress America

Screwball comedy that makes a fine platform for the great Greta Gerwig

This talkative tale of an American dreamer captures the romance of enthusiastically flying in the face of convention, and offers a screwball take on sisterly infatuation. That it hits cinemas just a few months after Noah Baumbach's last effort, While We're Young, suggests that the writer-director is afflicted with the same mania for ideas as the object of his protagonist's platonic affection, the irrepressible Brooke.

A star is born in Lola Kirke (who had a small but eye-catching role as a white-trash con-artist in Gone Girl, and who’s the sister of Jemima from Girls); she plays Tracy, a smart but nevertheless shiftless student and aspiring writer, whose NYC college experience is shaping up to be something of a disappointment. Rejected from the ultra-competitive – and fairly anarchic – literary society, she has managed to acquire just one friend in the screwdriver-supping Tony (Matthew Shear), whose jealous girlfriend Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones) eyeballs his every move.

Tracy's mother (Kathryn Erbe) is about to remarry and when she takes the plunge and calls up her soon-to-be-stepsister Brooke (co-writer and Baumbach's other-half Greta Gerwig) she's awestruck by the idiosyncratic figure who emerges from her Times Square pad. A self-described autodidact in a dizzying number of fields and so abuzz with inspiration she seemingly lacks the capacity to listen, Brooke is like a manic pixie dream girl wriggling under a microscope, her flaws clearly visible. And, unlike other quirky lovelies, she's not viewed through the eyes of a smitten man but an admiring, nevertheless critical woman.

It's rare and wonderful to see two young women bouncing off each other at the centre of a film and Gerwig is sensational as Brooke, playing her frantic and funny – at first as if she's barely engaging her brain, but when we see the mask of positivity slip, the problems mount and the ideas run dry she becomes a sad clown. Mistress America considers the cruelty of a sharp, unflinchingly observant pen, has a little wallow in the demise of youthful delusion, and celebrates those who think big, and try and fail whilst others merely conform and settle. As ever with Baumbach, this is rich and intellectually ambitious but it flounders as it descends into farce – just like Brooke, it's not quite sure where it wants to go.

General release from Fri 14 Aug.

Mistress America

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 24min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Noah Baumbach
  • Cast: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear
  • UK release: 14 August 2015

Tracy (Kirke), a shiftless NYC student and aspiring writer, meets her soon-to-be-stepsister Brooke (Gerwig), and is awestruck. A screwball take on sisterly infatuation, it features star turns from Kirke and Gerwig but, rich and ambitious as the film is, it flounders as it descends into farce.