First look: Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America

The writer/director teams up again with Greta Gerwig for another smart comedy

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It is possible that Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s latest project began life with the working title, Motherfucking Times Square. It’s where we first meet Gerwig’s Brooke in Mistress America, walking down the red steps at night, the square itself washed in neon light.

During an on-stage interview as part of the New York Film Festival in 2013 – shortly after the release of their first collaboration, Frances Ha – Baumbach and Gerwig discussed a subgenre of Eighties films they both liked. These included After Hours and Desperately Seeking Susan, films where “squares get batted around by less square people”.

These are both unexpected touchstones for Mistress America, though Baumbach draws inspiration from elsewhere, including John Hughes’ coming-of-age movies, The Great Gatsby and – in the film’s second half, set in a Connecticut mansion – parlour room screwball comedies. Elsewhere, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ diaphanous, pulsing score evokes New Order’s “Elegia” and The Cure’s “Plainsong”.

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At first, Greta Gerwig’s Brooke feels a little like an extension of the character she played in Frances Ha. Both characters display zany hipster ways, career anxiety and fierce social competition. But, it transpires, that the similarly is superficial.

While Frances’ life is floating and unformed, Brooke flits with almost superhuman energy between different activities. One minute she is dancing on stage with a band (a cameo from Dirty Projectors), the next she is running indoor cycling classes at a gym, home tutoring school children or plotting her latest dizzying career swerve, as an aspiring restauranteur.

Into Brooke’s disorientating, high velocity life comes Tracy (Lola Kirke; daughter of Free and Bad Company bassist Simon) who is soon to become Brooke’s half-sister. A college freshman struggling to fit in, Tracy is enthralled by the dynamic, fast-talking Brooke; but a series of setbacks suggest that Brooke is not entirely as successful and confident she first appears.

Aside from his recent penchant for casting the daughters of rock bass players (Sting’s eldest sibling, Mickey Sumner, was an excellent foil to Gerwig in Fances Ha), Mistress America additionally revisits several ideas from Baumbach’s other film released this year While We’re Young – authorship, authenticity, the trust between mentor and protégé, the fatuousness of self-absorbed people. Fans of Baumbach films will also enjoy gags involving literary magazines and boho bistros. It’s business as usual, pretty much.

Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner

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Mistress America opens in the UK on August 14

The History Of Rock – a brand new monthly magazine from the makers of Uncut – a brand new monthly magazine from the makers of Uncut – is now on sale in the UK. Click here for more details.

Meanwhile, the September 2015 issue of Uncut is on sale in the UK on Tuesday, July 28 – featuring David Gilmour, a free Grateful Dead CD, Bob Dylan and the Newport Folk Festival, AC/DC, Killing Joke, the Isley Brothers, Julien Temple, Ryley Walker and more.

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

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