‘Mistress America’ – not Noah Baumbach’s best work

By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Woody Allen is already doing Bad Woody Allen. We don’t need Noah Baumbach doing it, too.

Make that, Baumbach and his main squeeze/ muse, Greta Gerwig, who, along with co-writing “Mistress America,” is also one of the film’s stars.

The other one is Lola Kirke who plays Tracy, a freshman at Barnard. Tracy isn’t crazy about college.  She describes it as “like being at a party where you don’t know anyone all the time.”

She mostly seeks out the 30-ish Brooke because, in a few months, they’ll be stepsisters. And Brooke — glamorous, older and full of half-realized (at best) dreams — makes quite an impression.

Brooke is also great fodder for a short story, which is convenient for Tracy since the only thing about college she does like is a snobbish, briefcase-toting literary society who inducts their members with a midnight pie-in-the-face (sooo frat-boy-ish).

Though she’s submitted her work, Tracy still hasn’t gotten that whipped-cream affirmation.

That leaves her at loose ends, which is another reason she looks up Brooke. The pair take to each other instantly, and soon Tracy is being treated to the Brooke tour of New York, as well as to the older woman’s many projects, past, present and future.

Mistress America

Mistress America

Currently, Brooke is making plans to open a restaurant-cum-hair-salon in Brooklyn.  Her absentee Greek boyfriend Stavros was to have provided the funding, but as apparently happens on many of Brooke’s projects, things don’t work out.

A mere bump in the road for Brooke. She immediately hatches a new plan: she’ll head to suburban Connecticut where her wealthy former boyfriend and her former best friend (now his wife) live.  That the latter stole both her guy and her business idea doesn’t deter Brooke. For Lord-knows-what reason, she has complete trust in her erratic charisma.

More complete, perhaps than she should. Self-knowledge isn’t one of her strong points. The house party in Connecticut turns into a strained farce.

It’s supposed to be amusing and, perhaps, revelatory. But it’s more like a Brooke project; that is, another dead-end.

As is “Mistress America.” Which – again, like its protagonist – is all set-up, no follow-through.

Before Baumbach met Gerwig, he made brilliant movies like “The Squid and the Whale.” Now he’s doing sub-par Woody. Maybe it’s time to find a new muse.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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