Type A personalities populate our busiest cities. They bustle in and out of high-rises, grasping opportunities and creating an excess of life wherever they go. “Mistress America” focuses on Brooke Cardinas (Greta Gerwig), one such type A personification of what all millennials wish their late twenties looked like. She is a neurotic but endlessly charming New York entrepreneur, and she is also the muse to Tracy (Lola Kirke), an unsure freshman at Barnard College. “Mistress America” pulls at a plethora of heartstrings. Tracy and the supporting cast represent all the shades in the palette of human insecurity, while Brooke represents the glimmer of hope that we can achieve everything we dream for in life.
The story opens with Tracy’s first, unfulfilling days at Barnard. The scenes are edited to be short and abrupt, creating a humdrum rhythm that persists until Brooke’s debut in the storyline. Lola Kirke, playing Tracy, adopts a blase attitude and general apathy, seen in the emotionless expression she wears as she walks through the courtyards of Barnard. The film’s colors mirror Tracy’s experiences with poetic accuracy, oscillating from low contrast to supersaturated. The saturation dips when Tracy sits quietly in class and gets rejected from a literary society, and it momentarily returns to a normal temperature when Tracy develops a crush. They look out at the twinkling water under the Brooklyn Bridge one night, and she says to him, “We look like we’re in a song.”
But while Tracy isn’t looking, her crush finds a girlfriend, and the film returns to low contrast.
Tracy decides to reach out to Brooke, her soon-to-be stepsister, one especially lonely night in New York. When Brooke and Tracy first step onto the streets of New York together, the scenes stop cutting abruptly. Instead, they begin to melt seamlessly into one another, giving the impression of time flying by. The pace of Brooke’s life can best be described as white-water rapids, both all-consuming and dangerous if one gets too close.
Nonetheless, Greta Gerwig’s honest grin and endearing neuroticism give us no choice but to fall in love with the overambitious Brooke, just as she commanded our love for Frances in 2012’s “Frances Ha.”
Gerwig’s acting prowess is most evident in her ability to take the outlandish expectations of Brooke’s character and portray her sincerely. She is skilled in making us believe that Brooke will succeed in whatever path she chooses, whether it’s her plan to open a restaurant, write a book or be an interior designer. This was enunciated simply by Tracy during the closing moments of the film when she names Brooke “a beacon of hope for lesser people.”
Part of this sincerity is the result of a well-crafted script, co-written by director Noah Baumbach and Gerwig herself. Conversations between characters come off as hyperrealistic and candid, a style seen in “Frances Ha.” “Mistress America,” however, is notably sillier than its predecessor, but not obnoxiously so. Baumbach and Gerwig create a perfect balance of comedy and drama, as both atmospheres mingle in the film without one detracting from the other.
This balance is apparent in the scene when Brooke and Tracy are dancing in a bar that Tracy is clearly too young for. Their heads are pressed close together to hear their conversation over the music when Brooke nonchalantly yells, “Everyone I love dies!” — a reference to her recently deceased mother.
Similarly, the film’s theatrical climax navigates a wobbly path of trying to capture the pain of betrayal by one’s best friend, while adding comedic relief in the form of the supporting characters. Baumbach nails this attempt when Tracy and Brooke wage war in an upscale living room while the support shares hilariously unwelcome input on the unfolding situation. Baumbach makes the audience struggle between laughing out loud at the bizarre supporting dialogue and stifling deep, heart-aching sighs as the foundation of Brooke and Tracy’s relationship crumbles beneath them.
Leaving the audience with mixed emotions but a sure sense of satisfaction, “Mistress America” should not be missed. Honestly representing our generation, the film is a frank mirror held up to the face of people trying to figure out their place — and passions — in the constantly changing world around and within them.