The Frances becomes the Mistress

Mistress America (2015, RT Features)

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m falling for Greta Gerwig. Her whole I wanna make it real bad fighting spirit, down-to-earth personality, humour in the face of getting lost in life. Yup, I’m pretty sold. Hollywood’s sure to be a bitch once you’re over 30 too, but it hasn’t held back her uprising through a few different indie film releases. Most notably, her last collaboration with director, co-writer and partner Noah Baumbach in Frances Ha (2012). As a result, Mistress America (2015, RT Features) is an evolution from Frances towards a more focused, career driven character, now in her 30s, and getting to know her step sister to be.

Lola Kirke plays Tracey, the observant protagonist of the film. This college freshman hoping to make it as a writer calls up Brooke one night asking if she wanted to hang out. From there, the age gap sees Tracey pretty much where Frances was in 2012, while Gerwig has become Brooke, the self-empowered up-and-comer living it hard and fast in New York.

Gerwig’s still adorkable though. Tracey has both feet on the ground, the level headed writer trying to figure out if Brooke is for real, while Brooke always has one foot in front of her. This mantra really takes off as Tracey’s college friends, played by Jasmine Cephar Jones and Matthew Shear, follow Brooke’s crusade to find some money and get her restaurant idea off the ground. Gerwig’s co-writing with Noah Baumbach really reflects a comment on twenty-something’s that need to get their shit together, especially Jones and Shear who are stuck in the driest relationship. As the twenty-something I am, I don’t think it’s such a dangerous point. There’s a lot of introversion and what am I doing out there for all the plus 30s to just rebel by saying `shut up and be happy!’

Tracey is probably under the most pressure though. Kirke herself handles the spotlight with great originality, a dynamic shift from Gerwig’s Frances Ha to a more reserved and impressionable writerly type. In the climax she is put on trial for her story that reflects what she sees in Brooke. This trial is almost a farce of a play in it’s construction — characters take physical sides against Tracey because of what she’s written about her step sister to be. A touch of savage feminist ethics is rather bizarre here too. Heather Lind plays Mamie-Claire, Brooke’s old room mate accused of stealing her Tee-shirt company idea (and her cats), and while Tracey’s story is scrutinised, Mamie reads a long list of expectations for Tracey’s story to adhere to. It’s totally over the top, kind of interesting to throw kindling into the fire in a film will all female leads.

Ultimately, the idea of `the normal person’ in both of Baumbach and Gerwig’s films has been the key factor setting the protagonist apart from the rest of us. Strength is in being proud of being a dork, being awkward and not minding having a few weird friends to hang out with, and this has made Gerwig’s work incredibly relatable. Who hasn’t been raised on the basis of pursuing being dreams, shooting for the moon to land on stars? Everyone else that’s normal apparently, everyone bogged down in the day-to-day pursuit of a living. As Brooke finally finds the platform to sell her ideas, she’s caught in the void between success and happiness that we’re all waiting for her to find. Within a cast of younger up-and-coming actors, Gerwig is the sole dispenser of wisdom that comes from pursuing success, but looking for happiness above all.

The best line in Frances Ha for me was `That’s Sophie. She’s my friend.’ It summed up the over-arching plot and comes right when Frances could have solely focused on her own career. `Are those my f***king cats?!’ may have been the best line in Mistress America, but it’s the next step forward from Frances Ha, a whole evolution forward from the indecision, uncertainty and hope that defined her previous films. As Gerwig fast becomes a franchise in herself, I hope she can carry on this indestructible pursuit of ideas that are constantly too big for her characters to achieve. I think we need someone like Gerwig to carry the torch for artistic endeavor, both in film and in real life.


Have you watched any Greta Gerwig and loved it? Let us know what to look out for! :)

Originally published at