Mistress Amer­ica

MISTRESS AMER­ICA, com­edy, rated R, Vi­o­let Crown, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Noah Baum­bach’s Mistress Amer­ica strains might­ily at mad­cap com­edy, hit­ting its mark spo­rad­i­cally, more of­ten miss­ing the beat. It keeps up a self-con­sciously breath­less pace, hop­ing we will take it as some­thing smartly screw­ball and lighter-than-air while we rec­og­nize the thought­ful bass notes of angst that lurk in the shad­ows of its mod­ern lost-gen­er­a­tional char­ac­ters.

The screen­play, by Baum­bach and Greta Ger­wig, his muse, com­pan­ion, and star, finds Tracy (Lola Kirke), an eigh­teen-year-old fresh­man at Barnard Col­lege, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the mis­fit lone­li­ness of a smart kid away from home for the first time and find­ing her­self swimming in an in­tel­lec­tual cur­rent that is fast and in­dif­fer­ent. She as­pires to mem­ber­ship in the pres­ti­gious Mo­bius Literary So­ci­ety but is re­jected. She makes a ten­ta­tive friend of Tony (Matthew Shear), a fel­low literary hope­ful, but any ro­man­tic il­lu­sions are snuffed out when he takes up with the grumpy, jeal­ous Ni­co­lette (Jas­mine Cephas Jones).

She is fi­nally re­duced to call­ing her fu­ture step­sis­ter, Brooke (Ger­wig), whose wid­owed fa­ther is mar­ry­ing Tracy’s di­vorced mother at Thanks­giv­ing. Tracy and Brooke have never met, and Brooke is a dozen years older. But the chem­istry is in­stant. It’s Pa­trick Dennis and Aun­tie Mame, a life-chang­ing com­bus­tion of im­pres­sion­able youth and ir­re­sistible force, as Brooke takes “Baby Tracy” un­der her wing and sweeps her into a giddy new or­bit of glam­orous friends, hip cul­ture, and grand plans.

The grand­est of these plans is a res­tau­rant Brooke wants to start, ap­par­ently the latest in a string of wind­mills in the air at which she tilts with an op­ti­mism un­tem­pered by past ex­pe­ri­ence. She has some fi­nanc­ing lined up, and a space on hold, but it’s all very ten­u­ous; when things be­gin to fall apart, it trig­gers a third-act road trip to visit a rich for­mer boyfriend (Michael Ch­er­nus) in Con­necti­cut in search of back­ing.

Tracy, mean­while, has un­der­gone a char­ac­ter meta­mor­pho­sis that is not en­tirely con­vinc­ing. Daz­zled by her flam­boy­ant soon-to-be-sis­ter, she has taken those first im­pres­sions and fash­ioned them into a short story built on a sharp, sar­donic char­ac­ter sketch that is a thinly fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of Brooke. The story will be her re­newed ap­pli­ca­tion to Mo­bius, and what could go wrong?

The best part of this movie is the in­tro­duc­tion of Brooke, with her high hopes and bound­less energy, and there are laughs and smiles and an era of good feel­ing, car­ried by rapid-fire di­a­logue that is some­times very funny, even if it of­ten comes off more as writ­ing than speech. But it slips away like the best-laid plans, which weren’t that well-laid in the first place. The char­ac­ters wear out their welcome, the zingers turn sour, and the air seeps out of the bal­loon. — Jonathan Richards

Up­town girls: Greta Ger­wig and Lola Kirke

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