Mistress America ★★★★

Wong-Kar Wai took a break while making his action epic ASHES OF TIME to knock out the charming, off-the-cuff CHUNGKING EXPRESS. The experience re-charged his batteries and helped him finish the more “important” picture. Noah Baumbach would appear to have done almost the opposite, at least on paper. Following up the artistic breakthrough of 2013’s FRANCES HA with another low-budget collaboration with actor/co-writer Greta Gerwig, Baumbach shot MISTRESS AMERICA, but left the unfinished project to make the more crossover-friendly Ben Stiller/Naomi Watts comedy WHILE WE’RE YOUNG. That film feels like it has things it wants to say about generational differences and the ethics of documentary work, while in the guise of Baumbach’s most polished, commercial presentation (or as commercial as a film opening with a quote from Ibsen’s THE MASTER BUILDER is going to get).

Baumbach then went back to complete the more lark-ish MISTRESS AMERICA, arriving in theatres only 5 months after WHILE WE’RE YOUNG. Unsurprisingly, it feels closer to FRANCES HA than any of his other work, but it’s more of a screwball comedy, less informed by stray traces of mumblecore or French New Wave influences. Greta Gerwig’s Brooke may feel more like a “movie character” than Frances, but then sometimes you meet people that appear to be starring in their own movie. It boasts most of the same strengths as FRANCES HA, among them the refreshing focus on friendships between women. And if you find Gerwig funny, as I do, this is another appealing showcase for her distinctive comic persona.

Bill liked this review