Went to the cinema the other night and saw one of my, if not my most, anticipated films of the year. And, well, it’s partly about writing and authorship and inspiration! Things which are connected to this forum. So, I thought I’d tell you all about it and try my paw at a review (such as it were).
The film, Mistress America, is directed by Noah Baumbach (whose more recent work includes While We’re Young and one of my all-time favorites Frances Ha). His movies are somewhat polarizing. They often revolve around urban people having problems, so they get labeled as ‘hipster’ films. That’s never been an issue for me. Your mileage may vary.
It centers around Tracy, a young college student in New York City who wants to be a writer. Her school has a self-proclaimed ‘prestigious’ literary 'zine which she wants to get into but, very early in the film, is rejected from. She gives her story to a friend to ‘beta,’ but he really had nothing to say about it. And she has nothing to say about his. She realizes she’s not actually sure how to talk about writing, and she wonders if she can even write in the first place. Losing confidence in her ‘voice’ and alone with nothing to do, she calls her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke, played by the great Greta Gerwig.
Brooke is at least ten years older and seems like a ball of unchained, grown-up excitement. She does everything with everyone and is brimming with ideas, unconcerned with practicality. However, it soon becomes apparent that Brook is juggling more than she can handle and really isn’t very good at it. Tracy, fascinated by the contradictions, uses her as thinly-veiled inspiration for a new short story she intends to re-submit with to make her big mark. However, she doesn’t tell Brooke …
We’re all told (I think) when we’re starting out that drawing from personal experience is a good, if not the best, thing to do when fashioning a story. But what are the lines between fiction and biography? Especially in the social media age, where one might have multiple faces or identities manifested in various places at the same time? If someone makes an offhand comment that you turn into a story, is it their idea or yours? Can anyone own a writer’s observations? Is the idea the most important element of a story … or is it the execution? A lot of my stories have personal inspiration in them, be it behavioral quirks and interests, or settings and whatnot. So, I related to Tracy’s wide-eyed desire to convert everything around her into words.
There’s a definite screwball element, with fast, zippy dialogue that sometimes overlaps and borders on the absurd. It’s a comedy but there’s pathos and heart to it, as well. Everyone learns a lesson or two by the end. I tend to gravitate toward light, zippy films over heavier, dramatic fare, so I enjoyed the wit on display. It’s not necessarily a guffaw/belly laugh type film, but it’s an intellectually satisfying comedy. It’s also nice to see two female leads who are as fleshed out as these two! It’s safe to say this film passes the ‘Bedchel Test.’
Mistress America isn’t for everyone, and I doubt it’ll gross more than 3 or 4 million at the box office. But, if it’s in your area, maybe give it a peek. You might enjoy it.
3.5 Stars out of 4.
Also, here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHNEG61-h2g