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Arts and Entertainment

'Mistress America' Takes A Hilarious Look At Millennial Aimlessness

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No two people do 'in-between' like Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig.

From Kicking and Screaming's eternally pubescent college grads to While We're Young's fortysomething couple suddenly deciding to try ayahuasca for the first time, writer/director Baumbach has a knack for communicating that feeling of being stuck at a crossroads that can come across as both searingly honest and comically exaggerated. Gerwig, Baumbach's partner in life and in writing (here and in Frances Ha), personifies like no other the flighty twentysomething who's unable or unwilling to mature.

At first blush, Mistress America's Brooke (Gerwig), would appear to be different. Possessing a casually elegant beauty, deep well of confidence and sense of humor that lands squarely between witty and accidental, Brooke embodies New York cool for Tracy (Lola Kirke), Brooke's impressionable soon-to-be stepsister.

Tracy—who's meanwhile finding that college ain't what it's cracked up to be as she's left out of dorm parties and can't get into her school's uber-elite writing society—is at first infatuated with Brooke when her mother recommends calling her up and getting to know her. Brooke takes her out to bars, lets her stay over and shows her what life can be like.

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But the more time we (and Tracy) spend with Brooke, the more we realize she's sort of full of shit. Brooke "does everything and nothing," Tracy writes as she studies Brooke, who does a little bit of interior decorating, teaches spin class and knows cool bands but still comes off as directionless, despite big ideas to open a restaurant envisioned as a sort of earthy, hipster Cheers. We instinctively know it's never gonna happen.

Brooke confronts her nemesis and former friend, Mimi Claire (Heather Linde), who Brooke says stole her lucrative shirt design (and sold it to J. Crew) along with her rich fiancé—never mind that Brooke was the one who left him. Together with Tracy and a few friends, Brooke heads out to meet Mimi Claire and seek reparations, hopefully in the form of funding for her restaurant.

It's here that the film meanders into its climax, which is basically an excuse for an extended block comedy scene that finds Gerwig at her most charmingly awkward. It's a bit contrived, but you won't hear any complaints here, given Gerwig's commanding and hilarious performance. Kirke shines in scenes that demand Tracy explain herself for leeching off of Brooke's life for her stories (a theme in common with Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding). And the soundtrack, by Luna's Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips, is a synth-pop delight that sounds like a string of hits that never were.

Though notably lighter than some of his best work, it's worth noting that Mistress America is Baumbach's funniest film. The language pops with dizzying energy—Brooke at one point tells her young companions, "There's no cheating when you're 18. You should all be touching each other, all the time." And unlike bits of past Baumbach films, the dialogue never really comes across as belabored. If "no one really talks like this," "this feels more like a play" or "these are self-created white people problems" are common complaints you have with Baumbach or any film in general, steer clear. If you can handle a little winking pretension in the name of memorable dialogue and cleverly situated drama, Mistress America delivers the goods in spades.

Mistress America opens today.

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