3 stars
“Isn't every story a story of betrayal?”

There's probably one thing the American indie circuit likes more than its male darling Noah Baumbach (While We’re Young) or its female darling Great Gerwig (Frances Ha), and that's this power couple (they're married) working together.
Which is why Mistress America gave the circuit a collective orgasm: the pair co-wrote the script for Baumbach to direct and Gerwig to star. They're all over this like a goose-lined bedcover in a New York winter - what's not to love? They're just so damned, delightfully, effortlessly and gorgeously quirky.

Of course, this close-knit relationship comes at a price. That quirky appeal doesn't always translate outside its native setting while the phrase 'vanity project' is easily reached. Although they readily let you in on in-jokes, there's a sense that everything about Mistress America is on the couple's terms. Organic flow is for farmer's markets. It also leaves them wide open to professional vulnerability; sometimes you simply need a disinvested set of eyes and ears across the production (Mr Baumbach, did you not listen to your film before releasing it?)

Thus framed, Mistress America still has a lot to offer a willing audience simply because it is so damned, delightfully, effortlessly and gorgeously quirky! It kicks off when college girl Tracy (Lola Kirke – Gone Girl) develops a girl-crush on her alluringly energetic step-sister-to-be Brooke (Gerwig). One of her more coherent plans is to open a restaurant, which hatches further plans around raising seed money which unleashes a series of increasingly awkward and kooky circumstances bedevilling them both. It's broad, chatty, observational comedy with more than a comment or two to be made about the complications around chasing dreams in the digital age.

As things get broader, chattier and kookier, Mistress America heats up delightfully, subject to your taste for arrogant quirk. There is little escaping the look-at-me world of the oh-so clever Baumbach/Gerwig pairing, yet there is also a welcome note of self-deprecation that gives you access to Tracy and Brooke's world. Lesser hands would get lost in a suffocating cloud of smug, one this pair mostly avoid. Not so much the erratic, hit-and-miss nature of their inventive story-telling that jumps the rails more often than it should (see above re 'disinvested eyes'). Fortunately, Kirke's calm influence keeps things mostly on track, and keeps you in the picture. Mostly.

Fans of Frances Ha will lap this up, as might devotees of Wes Anderson for whom Baumbach wrote The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr Fox. Or enthusiasts of Woody Allen's more frenetic, earlier work. Although Mistress America never sustains its promise, there's still plenty to like in the margins of this vivacious romp.


Previewed at Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney on 7 October 2015

Great Gerwig
Lola Kirke
Seth Barrish

Noah Baumbach

Noah Baumbach
Greta Gerwig



84 minutes

October 29, 2015
Mistress America (2015) on IMDb
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