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Mistress America

I’m a professed fan of the off-beat charms of the unique Greta Gerwig, as well as a consistent supporter of filmmaker, Noah Baumbach. They are a pair now, both romantically and professionally, having collaborated on three of Mr. Baumbach’s features, the first of which (2010’s “Greenberg”) arrived in the same year as the dissolution of the director’s marriage, to wife Jennifer Jason Leigh (also in the “Greenberg” cast). I mean…you do the math. But I’m not here to judge personal lives. In fact, the first official co-writing result of Gerwig and her significant other, was 2013’s deliriously intoxicating “Frances Ha”. That film graced my Top Ten films list of that calendar year. And while “Mistress America” (also co-written by the pair) isn’t quite as successful as their previous joint–it’s still pretty darn good. And Ms. Gerwig proves as effervescent and beguiling a movie presence as ever.

College student Tracy (a solid Lola Kirke) is having difficulty with her relationships, as well as adjusting to her advanced academic life. Feeling all alone on campus, she seeks her divorced mother’s (Kathryn Erbe, making the most, out of very little screen time, as Stevie) advice. Mom is remarrying, so she urges Tracy to contact her older, soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (the wonderful Ms. Gerwig), who is currently living in New York City near Tracy’s college. And meeting Brooke becomes a life-affirming revelation for Tracy, almost immediately. Tracy’s lifestyle, her energy, her conversational style, her looks, and her fashion. Before long, Tracy is partying with Brooke on a regular basis, helping her secure finances for her fledgling restaurant project, and accompanying her on a Connecticut road trip, to face an old rival, along with a former love. It’s 84 minutes of giddy originality.

“Mistress America” was the 2nd official feature released by Noah Baumbach in 2015, the previous one (“While We’re Young) re-teamed him with his old “Greenberg” star, Ben Stiller. You know, I liked both films about equally. To separate them, I’d claim that “While We’re Young” was the release with a bit more depth, whereas “Mistress America” was all about eyeing Ms. Gerwig. Honestly, she’s incandescent. Charmingly unconventional and uncannily mesmerizing, I find myself always looking to what she’ll do next. What gesture she’ll make, what pose she’ll strike, or how long of a beat she’ll take. I’m sure she has a plan, but it all seems so spontaneous and effortless. Gerwig is a marvel. Young Lola Kirke is a strong presence here as Tracy, as she handles all of Ms. Gerwig’s various performance lobs with fine aplomb. And veteran Kathryn Erbe impresses in a small role as Tracy’s Mom. If “Mistress America” isn’t quite top-level Baumbach–it’s still close enough.

Grade:  B+

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