Blu-ray Review: Mistress America

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Writer-director Noah Baumbach's second film of 2015, Mistress America, is funnier than its predecessor While We're Young. But if it's plot you're after, you won't find much in Mistress. Baumbach's twin approximations of Woody Allen's character-based comedies explore some similar issues, namely the peculiarly unfocused world view of many twentysomethings. Though hampered by a series of tortuous, contrived plot twists, While We're Young at least contained enough narrative drive to justify its existence as a feature film. Mistress, co-written by its leading lady Greta Gerwig, is slight enough—even at a scant 84 minutes—that it feels more like an overextended sketch.

Gerwig's occasionally-grating performance (purposefully so, it should be said) as wannabe entrepreneur Brooke brings to mind, at least fleetingly, a more developed take on Kristen Wiig's one-upper Penelope from SNL. That's a broadside, to be sure, and there's honestly a lot more on Baumbach and Gerwig's minds than a one-note comedy bit. But unfortunately, they don't quite get their tale across with enough sense of depth. Thirty-ish Brooke is about to become stepsisters with an 18-year-old college freshman, Tracy (Lola Kirke). Brooke seems afraid of acting her age, convinced she and her younger stepsister-to-be are "contemporaries." Yet Brooke does possess a certain amount of business-minded drive: her specialty t-shirt idea was, she claims, stolen by her "ex-friend and nemesis" Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind). She's also in the midst of a financial struggle to establish her own restaurant. 

mistress america 2 (380x254).jpg Meanwhile, Tracy is caught up in a bit of a whirlwind as she experiences her first "adult" friendship. She's awed by Brooke's bold, brash confidence. Soon the pair seem inseparable and Tracy begins turning their exploits together into short stories. Whereas Gerwig skirts close to caricature at times, it's Lola Kirke who walks right off with the film. Gerwig expresses Brooke's emotions through grand gestures and high drama—her dialogue is a bit too snappy and soundbite-ready at times to feel believable. Kirke shades her portrait of Tracy with far more subtle layers. Brooke is quite set in ways, while Tracy's personality is still forming. She incorporates the good and the bad influences drawn from her time with Brooke, emerging at the end as a more mature person.

Yes, Mistress America meanders. But that doesn't mean it's without interest. Despite some ill-advised, highly-stylized dialogue (coming from Brooke, and while I'm sure it's intentional it also feels phony), Baumbach has mined his observations about the lives of contemporary American youth to watchable effect. The trouble is, while it's good it, it probably could've been great (see his Greenberg for an underrated classic character study). 
mistress america BD (309x380).jpg Twentieth Century Fox's Blu-ray presentation is strong visually, Sam Levy's unflashy cinematography well represented by the 1080p transfer. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 offers, I can only assume, exactly the type of mix the filmmakers desired. But I found it excessively bass-heavy for the type of movie it is. The surround channels are, if anything, too active with ambiance and music. Personally, I felt some of the mixing choices were detrimental to the clarity of the dialogue.

There are a few special features included but nothing worth viewers' time. Three featurettes (to be fair, clearly labeled "promotional" on the Blu-ray menu) are basically extended trailers. There's also a still photo gallery.

If you've like any of Noah Baumbach's films, definitely don't skip Mistress America. If you are new to Baumbach, start with Greenberg. If you like that, give While We're Young a whirl. If you're still on board, go to Mistress America.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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