Indie film favorite "Mistress America" is made in the same spirit as director Noah Baumbach and actor Greta Gerwig´s earlier screenplay collaboration "Francis Ha", a charming comedy about young women's lives in New York. "Mistress America", as well as "Francis Ha", is built around the slightly off, fun, unrealistic, and crazy character, played by Greta, that tries to get by in the city as best she can with mixed result.
Tracy (Lola Kirk) is a freshman at university and has not made any friends yet. She gets the number to Brooke (Greta Gerwig) from her mother, who is marrying Brooke's father. Reluctantly, she calls her future stepsister, and is immediately drawn into Brooks wild New York-existence. Tracy looks up to Brooke and follows her everywhere, but her fascination turns out to be not only as a friend, when she start taking notes of everything they do together.
The truth comes out during an outing with students, an ex-boyfriend, the jealous new girlfriend and an angry neighbor – several other characters pop up for no particular reason rather than for comic effect, similar to scenes out of old-time screwball comedies. And for this reason opinions may vary of viewers content with the comic scenes, and those who would have liked a bit more depth to the story. But most of us will agree that Greta's charm is irresistible. The film is made with lots of love, and entertains all the way through without a boring minute. "Mistress America" is a feel-good film and a declaration of love to a New York City that in many ways no longer exist.
The film had its world premiere at Sundance, and has been a favorite at festivals since then. It received great reviews for the theatrical release in the US on August 14. A few days before, distributor Fox Searchlight arranged a preview and Q&A with Greta Gerwig, moderated by WNYCs Anna Sale:
Greta about script writing together with Noah:
-When we wrote ”Francis Ha!” together we were mostly in different cities. So we'd write separately and trade what we'd written. And when we did this we were romantic partners so we were in the same space. We talk a lot about it before we write but then we actually [still] kind of write separately, then trade and edit each others work, talking and building and then go off again to write until we have a script thats too long. So we start reading it out loud together and take notes and edit. But it takes a long time because we don't do any improvisations or change any lines. It's about getting a piece of writing that feels worth shooting. I tend to overwrite and Noah is more calm in general about how he goes about it, he just sits down at the computer. I go off and come back with 50 pages of garbage (laugh).
Greta about the character Brooke:
- Brooke tries to get success in any way that comes to her and in some ways she has no skills. She's always looking for the thing she wants. which is basically getting a lot of money to get ot of it. I'm definitely not making fun of it, I think it's a hard thing not to have a place or any directions in life, no ”I'm meant to do this”. I think that's hard.
Greta about the 80's influence:
- We were very influenced by movies set in New York in the 80's like ”Something Wild”, ”After Hours” and ”Desperately Seeking Susan”. There's a sense of danger to them but also this reckless fun. Even if this movie takes place now, we always thought of it as belonging to another decade. Even the way we dressed Brooke – it's not really how people dress right now. In a way, that's why the end is so sad to me, that Brooke has no place here. She's leaving, she can't hack it here anymore. I don't know if that's 100% true and of course there's still a lot of Brookes around... It's something about that small time hustler energy that's making it work and it's just hard now. I moved to New York in the 80's and have very distinct memories of coming here when I was 5, and when you're 5 your into anything slightly sexual and I remember being at Times Square and wanting to go to those top less bars (laugh) I didn't know what it meant, is there an opening at the top, or...? (laugh) But it burned into my mind, that kind of Times Square. I know I'm nostalgic for something I never lived.
Greta about how she will direct differently from Noah:
- I believe in rehearsal. I don't believe that it actually kills performances, like I think a lot of film directors believe. I think actors do really well with rehearsal. I think they'd do great getting there a couple of weeks early to work on their themes and then go away for a week or two weeks and let it settle, and when they're on set it's like all that work can kind of bubble up. Noah doesn't do rehearsals, we do tons and tons of takes but he doesn't like doing rehearsal ahead of time. A lot of film directors feel like what if something magical happens and I wasn't there to get it. Maybe it is my theatre background but I think actors do well with laying down some sediment before performance so I'll rehearse.