Mistress America (2015). Directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke.
What is it about a certain subset of the would-be New York intelligentsia that makes them so damned irritating?
Noah Baumbach’s film is covered in a layer of artifice so thick that it is impossible to discern any human truth lurking underneath.
The improbable tale of Lola Kirke’s naïve college newbie Tracy finding her gauche, snide and sneering lifestyle guru in Greta Gerwig’s potential sister and utter fantasist Brooke starts off with a healthy dose of wit but soon slips into pretentious would be screwballery which utterly poisons the creative well.
No-one acts like a real person with normal dreams, desires and motivations at any point. The Manhattan conjured up by Baumbach and Gerwig (who co-wrote the screenplay) is an insular pod full of women who consider themselves to be the most self-confident and attractive on the face of the planet and men who consider themselves geniuses, wishing they could fast forward their lives to the point where the world at large catches up with their precious opinions of themselves.
The whole thing is presented with absolutely no ironic filter, just a succession of hideous archetypes being hideous to and about each other. Tracy’s literary ambitions supposedly lie at the centre of proceedings but her desire to write isn’t framed as a desire to create anything meaningful – she merely wants to be noticed and being that it is New York, writing is obviously the way to find the level of attention she seeks.
People’s lives seemed improbable in Woody Allen movies in the 70’s but the characters populating those films had a reality and internal logic to them which made everything else work. Here characters lurch about completely incoherently from moment to moment acting completely inanely and unrealistically simply to further a pretty lame road-trip narrative.
Lady Bird is proof positive that Gerwig can write a wonderful, grounded, relatable and funny version of this type of coming of age tale so the blame for this pretentious, insular mess is being laid squarely at Baumbach’s immensely irritating feet.