Despite receiving a number of accolades and having made some pretty well received films in the past decade, Noah Baumbach has always been rather hit or miss for me, despite making a few films I found enjoyable. That being said, Mistress America caught me completely off guard and is by far the best thing I’ve seen from him by a pretty decent margin. Re-teaming with his Frances Ha leading actress/co-writer Greta Gerwig, Mistress America has a lot in common with the aforementioned Gerwig vehicle – a film which I liked a lot – but improves upon it in a lot of respects as well. Whereas Frances Ha saw Gerwig in the lead role with a series of interchangeable supporting characters to work off of, Mistress America assigns her with a consistent foil (played marvelously by Lola Kirke) not only to serve as Gerwig’s straight man, but as the film’s true lead character to navigate through Baumbach’s whirlwind interpretation of life in modern New York City.
Many reviewers have noted since the film’s premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival that if Frances Ha was Baumbach and Gerwig’s ode to the French New Wave, then Mistress America is their tribute to the American Screwball Comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. And in that respect, it’s an unqualified success. It moves ahead through its surprisingly short running time with such anarchic energy and optimistic repose that it’s easy to get swept up in all the hi-jinks and mannered witticisms, and I mean that in the best possible way. But this film isn’t merely comedy as a means of escapism, but rather comedy as a reflection of life. It portrays real struggles and conflicts everyday people go through, but goes about depicting them in a more comforting manner, which still not sugarcoating them with easy answers and quick solutions. It’s the greatest form of modern comedic cinema; honest, but ultimately reassuring.