Mistress America Review
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Earlier this year, when director Noah Baumbach took aim at self-absorbed hipsters in the chatty but clever While We’re Young, it seemed as though he’d finally gotten it right. But, for the follow-up, Mistress America, he’s back to his old ways, filling the film with clueless narcissists who think they’re far more exceptional than they really are.

Mistress America starts out as the story of Tracy (Lola Kirke), a college freshman whose romantic notions of college life in New York City quickly turn into a lonely and disappointing reality. Desperate to make some kind of connection, she reaches out to her stepsister-to-be, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), and immediately finds herself drawn into a fast-paced world of parties and friends and fabulous plans for the future. Captivated by Brooke’s confidence and ambition, Tracy uses her as inspiration for her writing as she gets caught up in Brooke’s quest to open a new restaurant.

In the beginning, Mistress America is a thoughtful and amusing look at the reality of college life: the pretentious classmates, the awkward social situations, and the clumsy relationships. It’s simple but honest and observant, highlighting many of those ridiculous things that college students tend to take way too seriously.

As soon as Brooke makes her entrance, though, she hijacks the entire film, turning a laid-back comedy about a lonely college freshman into a spastic adventure through the swinging moods and outrageous schemes of the kind of egotistical character who doesn’t care about—or even notice—the damage she does on the way to her next big thing. She is, after all, too busy creating her brand on Twitter. And, in the process, she pulls Tracy into her world, turning her into a blunt, outspoken, self-obsessed little disciple.

To be fair, Brooke is an interesting character. We all know someone like her—someone who’s larger than life, whose personality is so magnetic that she tends to pull weaker people into orbit around her. For the first few minutes, she’s quite fascinating, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that she’s all just smoke and mirrors—all big ideas and random, snappy witticisms that are never any longer (or deeper) than a Tweet. And, like the other shallow, superficial, and generally unhappy people who surround her, she makes this film exhausting to watch.

The characters in Mistress America may be realistic and generally well-acted, but that doesn’t make them worth watching. Though the film has a few interesting insights, it’s a frantic and frustrating experience.

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