Susan Granger’s review of “Mistress America” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Advertised as a screwball comedy, this Noah Baumbach manic, self-consciously chic creation is riddled with treachery and angst.
Ambitious 18 year-old Tracy (Lola Kirke) wants to be a writer; she’s just started her first semester at Barnard and is already disillusioned about higher education, having been summarily rejected by the college’s Mobius Literary Society.
In Times Square, Tracy meets egocentric, idiosyncratic 30 year-old Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who is a self-styled interior decorator, SoulCycle instructor, social media maven and aspiring restaurateur.
Her latest passion is to open an eatery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with the backing of her Greek boyfriend, Stravros. She envisions combining a bistro with a hair salon and art gallery, calling it Mom’s. Brooke seems to have a lot of good ideas but, as someone astutely observes: “no follow-through.”
Insecure Tracy immediately latches onto seemingly sophisticated Brooke, who will become her stepsister by marriage; Brooke’s divorcee mother (Kathryn Erbe) is about to marry Brooke’s widower father.
Adding to the cast of involved characters, there’s Tracy’s classmate Tony (Matthew Shear) and his viciously jealous girl-friend, Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones).
When deluded Brooke’s plans hit a snag and she needs $75,000 by Monday, they drive to Greenwich, Connecticut, to confront deceitful, malicious Mamie-Claire (Heather-Lind), who not only married Brooke’s wealthy ex-fiancé, Dylan (Michael Cernus), but also stole Brooke’s most commercially viable T-shirt concept.
They arrive at Dylan’s gigantic, glass house in the midst of a book-group discussion, as a bevy pregnant women discuss the literary merits of William Faulkner. Eventually, of course, Tracy wises up – but, by then, you’ve lost 84 minutes of your life.
Closely following “While We’re Young,” this is Baumbach’s second release in 2015, and it’s the first writing collaboration between Baumbach and comedienne Greta Gerwig since their highly overpraised “Frances Ha” (2012).
Problem is: their self-conscious, nervously chattering characters never shut up, rambling on and on, seemingly without thinking. They’re ostentatiously erudite, backed by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ synth-pop score.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mistress America” is a shallow, superficial 6, filled with insufferably pretentious poppycock.