Fox Searchlight 84 minutes R
Here’s a girl buddy film that is a throwback to old romantic comedies and drawing room farce. Mistress America is highly entertaining. And funny! At the screening in Chicago with Writer/Producer/Star, Greta Gerwig and co-star Lola Kirke, they told us how and why the movie came about.
Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, known for their successful collaboration on Frances Ha, have done it again. Gerwig explained that her character, 30-year-old Brooke, came first. “This is a woman who needs a movie.” And someone Gerwig and Baumbach say an amalgamation of women they’ve seen before.
Brooke is a wild child, living in Times Square where she is a small time hustler with “wackadoodle philosophies of life.” She knows everybody but has no real friends. She dabbles in everything from apartment and clothing design, to handling the opening a restaurant with her rich Greek boyfriend, who you never see.
Gerwig says she started writing scenes and reading them aloud to her screenwriting partner, Baumbach. They wrote more scenes separately. Then there was a lot of talking, reading out loud and writing. Interestingly enough, Gerwig says she’s really more like the character of Tracy, an 18-year-old college Freshman who wants to be recognized as a great writer. And Brooke, who she looks up to, provides plenty of exciting and philosophical material for the writer wannabe.
Gerwig auditioned many girls and picked Kirke from her audition tape because she had “pathos” and was funny. But she says that Kirke is not like Tracy at all in real life and that makes her a great actress. In fact, Gerwig says there’s more of herself in the character of Tracy than the free wheeling Brooke.
Still the funniest and most memorable scenes in this film come during the last half. After Tracy and Brooke have established their mentoring relationship, all hell breaks loose when Brooke takes Tracy, her nebby, would-be boyfriend and his jealous, needy girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas-Jones) to Greenwich, Connecticut on a field trip.
This is the home of Brooke’s ex boyfriend, Michael, played by Michael Chernus, (Captain Phillips, Orange is the New Black) and his wife, Heather (Heather Lind (Boardwalk Empire) Heather not only stole Brooke’s T-Shirt idea and her cats, she also stole cats and husband, played by Heather Lind, (Boardwalk Empire). Time for a major confrontation with all players present. It’s confusing, feels more like a play than a movie and the staging is insane. But it works. It’s like a drawing room comedy with everyone running all over this beautiful house in the hills, spewing lines super fast, revealing past and present relationships. Think Marx Brothers, Frank Capra, 80’s comedies like Broadway Danny Rose, all rolled into one.
They did hundreds of takes over a month in that house while the owners were living there! They blocked and shot it over and over again to get the pacing and angles just right. It’s organized mayhem and their planning pays off.
Gerwig told us that these scenes sound like improv, but they were carefully scripted, read exactly as written and choreographed by Baumbach and Gerwig. She quoted Baumbach at our screening saying, “The lines are your toys. Play with them.” But none were changed.
Kirke describes their level of perfectionism and commitment to their craft exciting. Gerwig and Baumbach are not like other filmmakers. They’ll do it again and again (55 takes in the closet scene). They have a vision of what they want and won’t stop until they get it. It was intimidating at first, but says she learned a lot in process.
Is this worth your bucks? This is a fresh take on an old genre. Farce is fun. This is a talented cast, working very hard to bring these quirky characters to life in an intricate tale. They bare relationships, but also resolve some. You may wince at times. Miss Stressed America might be a more apt title, but this film of the absurd will still make you laugh.